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Top NY prosecutor confronts criticism from India

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 22, 2014 at 10:43 am •  Published: June 22, 2014
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NEW YORK (AP) — After years of silence on the issue, India-born U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has begun to open up about the cultural scorn he has faced over his high-profile prosecutions of South Asian defendants, particularly that of an Indian diplomat that led to one commentator in India to call him an "Uncle Tom."

In a recent speech at Harvard Law School, he noted the criticisms and countered them with unusual candor. Citing one commentator in India who questioned if he took up the diplomat case "to serve his white masters," Bharara quipped about who those white masters might be.

"Presumably, Eric Holder and Barack Obama," he said.

But the prosecutor also conceded that the uninvited scrutiny has been painful. It reached a fever pitch after the December arrest of a mid-level Indian diplomat on charges she underpaid a domestic worker. Much of the furor in the case against Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, focused on the fact that she had been strip-searched, which was viewed in India as degrading and unnecessary. Soon afterward, she was permitted to return to India, though charges remain.

"Talk show hosts in India took to calling me a self-loathing Indian who made it a point to go after people from the country of his birth. Which was a bit odd, since the alleged victim was also Indian," Bharara recalled.

Bharara said the criticism "might not have bothered me so much except that it bothered my parents."

"I had to explain to my daughter, who overheard a conversation in the house, what it meant to be called an Uncle Tom," he said.

Preetinder Bharara was born in Ferozepur, India, in 1968. His family moved to the U.S. when he was 2, and he was raised along the New Jersey shore in Monmouth County.

After graduating from Harvard in 1990 and Columbia Law School in 1993, he became an an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan and eventually was U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer's chief counsel, helping to lead an investigation into the firings of nine U.S. attorneys under President George W. Bush.

Soon after his 2009 appointment by President Barack Obama as U.S. attorney in Manhattan, he presided over one of the largest roundups of Wall Street professionals in history, using hundreds of hours of wiretaps that resulted in more than 80 convictions.

But his prosecution of some fellow highly successful South Asians strained perceptions of him in his birthplace even before the diplomat's arrest. Three years ago, his office successfully prosecuted Raj Rajaratnam, of Sri Lanka, along with some of Rajaratnam's India-born friends from college. Rajaratnam, serving an 11-year prison term for insider trading, became a billionaire after creating the Galleon Group of hedge funds that once handled as much as $7 billion. His brother is currently on trial on insider trading charges.

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