Monday, December 23, 2013

Indian diplomat gets 'exemption' from court appearance

File photo of Sangeeta Richard with her husband Philip
NEW DELHI (AA) - The much-publicized diplomatic stand-off between India and the United States may be moving towards a resolution as Devyani Khobragade, a senior Indian diplomat accused of visa fraud and underpayment to a maid, got exemption from personal court appearance on Monday as she got accredited from the United Nations after being moved there, sources said.

Anadolu Agency has learned that Khobragade’s accreditation to United Nations means she will get a new ID card by the US State Department which will entitle her to full diplomatic immunity but not in the ongoing visa fraud case as the immunity will not have retrospective effect. Khobragade is likely to be issued a new ID card after Christmas holidays for which India has reportedly submitted required papers.

Meanwhile top sources told AA that India will push hard to drop the charges against the diplomat. There is a strong possibility that Khobragade will get her passport back even if charges against her are not dropped as US considers the case as a “law enforcement” issue as clarified earlier by Marie Harf, the US State Department spokesperson.

Khobragade was transferred to India’s permanent mission in UN on December 18 in a bid to legally secure the case against the diplomat hoping that she will get full diplomatic immunity there.

US Secretary of State John Kerry had expressed "regret" over the alleged ill-treatment of the Indian diplomat on late Wednesday night in a phone call to India's National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon saying that the incident "should not have happened and will not happen again".

"As a father of two daughters about the same age as Devyani Khobragade, the secretary empathizes with the sensitivities we are hearing from India about the events that unfolded after Ms. Khobragade’s arrest," Marie Harf, the US State Department spokesperson had told reporters.

Wendy Sherman, US under secretary for political affairs, had also spoken to India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh assuring to defuse the diplomatic crisis.

India's prime minister on Wednesday described the diplomat’s arrest and subsequent alleged ill-treatment as "deplorable".

Meanwhile, the US embassy has sought more time to return ID cards and provide salary details of its staff as Monday was the deadline set by India.

As a "reciprocal" measure, India had recalled special privileges granted to US diplomats in India including return of ID cards, removal of security barricade at the US embassy in Delhi, cancellation of import licenses of certain food items including liquor.

Earlier there was mass outrage in India on Wednesday as it transpired that the US embassy in Delhi granted expedited visas to the husband and two children of the maid Sangeeta Richard just two days before the arrest of the diplomat.

Some media reports had hinted that contacts within the US diplomatic community would have come into play as Richard’s in-laws reportedly work for the American embassy in New Delhi.

39-year old Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, was arrested by New York Police Department on December 12 morning as she was dropping off her young daughters to school. She was publicly handcuffed, allegedly strip-searched and put in a cell with common criminals including drug addicts. She was released on a bail of $2,50,000 in the evening.

Khobragade was allegedly paying Richard $3.11 per hour instead of the promised mandatory US wages of $9.75.

However, Indian officials portray a more complicated legal picture, saying that  Richard has been absconding since June this year as a Delhi high court had issued an interim injunction in September restraining her from instituting any actions or proceedings against Khobragade outside India according to the terms and conditions of her employment.

The Indian embassy had requested the US government to locate Richard, Khobragade's maid, and facilitate the implementation of an arrest warrant, issued by the Metropolitan Magistrate of the South District Court in New Delhi under Sections 387, 420 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code.

Anadolu Agency, December 23, 2013

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