Washington, Dec 24: In the midst of a diplomatic row over the arrest of an Indian diplomat, an influential US lawmaker has asked the administration what action is planned against 49 Russian diplomats accused in a scheme to defraud Medicaid.
In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Republican House member Ed Royce said Monday that he was seeking information on how the Obama administration plans to address “the law enforcement and diplomatic aspects” of the case.
Though the letter does not mention Devyani Khobragde, India’s former consul general in New York, the letter raises several questions bringing out the contrasting treatment meted out to her and the Russians by Manhattan’s India-born US prosecutor Preet Bharara.
Expressing “serious concern about foreign diplomats receiving, and reportedly defrauding, US government-funded benefits programmes”, Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has sought a briefing on the issue.
Royce’s questions bringing out the double standards of the US in handling the case in contrast to Khobragade’s include how will it treat the 11 accused diplomats who still remain in the US?
“Will you ask the Russian government to waive their immunity so that they can be prosecuted? If not, will the Department declare them persona non grata?” he asked.
“How will the administration treat the 38 named defendants who, according to the US Attorney, no longer reside in the US? Will you request that they be extradited to stand trial? If not, will the Department impose a US visa ban on them?” Royce wrote.
He also asked: “How will the administration treat the unindicted co-conspirators at Russian diplomatic offices in the US who allegedly advised and assisted the named defendants by supplying false documentation to New York officials in support of the fraudulent Medicaid claims?
“How closely did the US Attorney, Department of Justice, or Federal Bureau of Investigation cooperate with the Department of State during the investigation?
“What steps did the US Attorney take to coordinate with the Department of State before filing the complaint Nov 18 or unsealing it on Dec 5?”
It took Bharara’s office 10 long years to make a case against the 49 Russian diplomats and their spouses charged with scamming Medicaid, a government health care programme for low-income families, out of $1.5 million over a decade.
All of them worked in New York at the Russian mission to the UN or the Russian consulate or the Russian trade representation office when they committed the alleged fraud.
But Bharara could not lay his hands on any of them. By the time he filed charges just a week before he chose to act against Khobragade, only 11 of them remained in the US. But none has been taken into custody as they all have diplomatic immunity.
Ten of them are diplomats working with the Russian mission to the UN and their spouses, and one is now stationed at the Russian embassy in Washington. At the time of the charged offences, he was employed at the consulate in New York.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)