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Lawyer for Indian diplomat arrested in NY seeks postponement in visa fraud case

Mohammed Jaffer/Snapsindia / Reuters file

India's Deputy Consul General in New York, Devyani Khobragade, attends a Rutgers University event at India's Consulate General in New York, June 19, 2013.

A lawyer for an Indian diplomat accused of submitting false documents to get a work visa for her Manhattan housekeeper — an Indian national she allegedly paid less than $3 per hour — is seeking to postpone proceedings in a visa fraud case that has sparked an international spat.

In a letter to a federal magistrate judge in New York, a lawyer for Devyani Khobragade — the deputy consul who was arrested and strip-searched last month, igniting tensions between the United States and India — requested an extension of the time by which the U.S. government must file an indictment or begin a preliminary hearing.

Attorney Daniel Arshack told Reuters he filed the letter in court — but he would not comment about a possible resolution of the touchy case.

Khobragade, 39, was arrested Dec. 12 and charged with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements about how much she paid her housekeeper.

The case was adjourned until Jan. 13 — the date by which the federal government must launch a preliminary hearing or file an indictment.

According to Reuters, Arshack requested that U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn push the deadline back 30 days to Feb. 12.

"Significant communications have been had between the prosecution and the defense and amongst other government officials and it is our strong view that the pressure of the impending deadline is counterproductive to continued communications," Arshack wrote, according to the wire service. 

Khobragade was released on bail of $250,000 after giving up her passport. She faces up to 15 years in prison if she is convicted.

She was transferred to a new role at the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York, officials told NBC News.

Prosecutors allege that Khobragade told the U.S. Embassy the worker, Sangeet Richard, would be paid $4,500 a month — then had her sign a secret contract that paid $3.31 an hour, in violation of American rules that require visa holders be paid minimum wage.

Prosecutors also say that the maid complained Khobragade paid her even less than $3.31, verbally abused her, took away her passport and told her she had no choice but to continue working under those conditions.

Indian lawmakers have reacted with fury to Khobragade's arrest, calling her treatment "humiliating," "despicable" and "barbaric" and alleging she was cavity searched.

The Indian government retaliated by removing security barriers at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and revoking the privileges of American diplomats in India. There have also been several anti-American protests outside the U.S.'s diplomatic buildings in the subcontinent.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.