More skeletons tumble out of Devyani Khobragade's cupboard

Many Indians believe in karma, believing that as you sow you will reap. When Devyani Khobragade was arrested by the US law enforcement authorities on serious charges of visa fraud, the news of her being an allottee in the infamous Adarsh scam came out fairly instantly.

Adarsh was a co-operative housing society formed supposedly for Kargil war widows and Indian war veterans, but considering it stood on some of Mumbai's most expensive real estate, politicians and bureaucrats made a beeline to grab flats by making a mockery of the law.

When many read about Devyani and Adarsh, and given middle-class India's utter frustration with India's endemic corruption, many gleefully said the US arrest was payback time and karma had worked.

Whether karma works or not, things have just gotten worse for Devyani and new revelations may mean that the Indian government's vociferous defence of Devyani and actively fanning flames to bring things to a boil may actually be something that may come back to burn India.

 More skeletons tumble out of Devyani Khobragades cupboard

PTI image

First up, while earlier Devyani's involvement in the Adarsh scam was just a serious allegation, a respected commission set up to investigate Adarsh has now said in its detailed 670-page report that Devyani furnished false information to own a flat in the Adarsh Co-operative housing society. She had falsely claimed that she did not own a flat anywhere else at the time of her application for Adarsh membership, the commission has said, according to The Indian Express.

"Devyani told the Commission that she owned the Jogeshwari flat only in 2005. This statement is false since the 2004 application MEM-392-A mentions her to be a member of the society (Meera), which she said she would resign from when she gets the Adarsh allotment," the report says, according to the newspaper. Worse, she also sold her earlier government-allocated flat at Jogeshwari for Rs 1.9 crore and possibly at a fat profit.

To be exact, the Adarsh Commission report was rejected by the Maharashtra cabinet considering it also raised serious questions on the murky doings of past Maharashtra Chief Ministers, one of whom is India's current home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

But despite the official rejection, even the most shameless from India's political class would believe that the report is a lie and deserves to be a rejected. So much so that despite members of the Opposition being trapped in the Adarsh net, the BJP has sensed a perfect opportunity put the Congress on the mat and is planning to appeal to the courts to overturn Maharashtra Governor K Sankaranarayanan's refusal to allow the CBI to prosecute former Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan despite the CBI saying it had proof.

On Sunday, the Times of India carried another story that brought another skeleton tumbling out. India's Supreme Court had noted that the rules for allotment of foreign language to Indian Foreign Service officers on the basis of their rank in the select list was changed only for Devyani's batch in 1999 to ensure she got her chosen language.

According to the ToI, the Supreme Court noted this in a judgment while reinstating a dismissed IFS officer Mahaveer V Singhvi in Devyani's batch, and imposing a fine of Rs 25,000 on the Union government for wrongfully terminating his services. The article quotes the SC bench of then Justices Altamas Kabir, J M Panchal and Cyriac Joseph as saying, "The Union government and ministry of external affairs have not been able to satisfactorily explain why the rules/norms for allotment of languages were departed from only for the year 1999 so that the Singhvi was denied his right of option for German and such choice was given to Khobragade who was at two stages below Singhvi in the gradation list...The mode of allotment was amended for the 1999 Batch in such a calculated fashion that Ms Khobragade, who was at Serial No.7, was given her choice of German over and above Singhvi, who was graded at two stages above her."

Singhvi's lawyer Jayant Bhushan has alleged that the unwarranted change in rules for which the Union government received a slap on the wrist from the Supreme Court was done thanks of Devyani's father Uttam Khobragade's IAS and political connections.

While some commentators have said that Adarsh, Devyani's Indian assets and Devyani's US arrest are two separate matters, another news story today may inadvertently pull the rug from underneath the Devyani's feet. Devyani's father Uttam Khobragade has been quoted as saying that the salary of the maid in question, Sangeeta Richard was more than his daughter's take home salary, and many have seen that as reason enough for Devyani to possibly lie on the US visa form out of sheer practical necessity.

However, the Times of India also revealed that Devyani's husband Aakash Singh Rathore has deep roots in the US, is a US citizen and a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been teaching for the past year and may have business interests in his family-owned winery in Michigan.

Considering that Devyani's maid was hired in the first place to care for her children and her father and others in government have questioned how she could afford to pay US wages to her maid while earning an Indian government salary, there now rises the critical question of whether the income and citizenship of Devyani's husband and the father of her children is irrelevant to the case.

Surely Preet Bharara, the US Attorney prosecuting Devyani and who has a near 100 percent record of success will not ignore these issues when the case comes up in court. He may also use Devyani's significant assets in India which shows she has a net worth of several crores and possibly many more.

The Adarsh Commission report may also come in handy since the Commission has observed that Devyani's "Income Tax (return) discloses that she is a well-to-do person since she owns agricultural land, flats in Aurangabad, Pune, Delhi, Thane and investments of large amounts."

Updated Date: Dec 23, 2013 08:37:29 IST