Friday, January 10, 2014

India expels US Diplomat

Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade addressing media along with his father (Pic: NDTV)
NEW DELHI (AA) - The tit-for-tat diplomacy seemed to be at work on Friday as India asked the US Embassy in Delhi to withdraw an officer of similar rank to that of Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York. Kobragade was asked to leave the US on Thursday after being indicted for visa fraud and making false statements regarding the employment of a maid she brought from India.
A senior Indian official told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity that the role of a particular US official was "questionable" in a month-long diplomatic slugfest between India and US resulting in the indictment and subsequent expulsion of Khobragade.
It is widely believed that the US official in the Delhi Embassy may have played an active role in granting expedited visas to the husband and two children of the maid Sangeeta Richard, allowing the family to fly to the US just two days before the arrest of the diplomat. In December, media reports 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.
Khobragade flew back home on Friday hours after she was granted full diplomatic immunity and indicted in a US court on charges of visa fraud and making a false statement regarding the employment of her maid.
A senior Indian official told Anadolu Agency that the US State Department formally asked India to arrange the diplomat’s departure after the US request to waive her diplomatic immunity for trial was rejected by the Indian side on January 9.
India's Foreign Ministry said that Khobragade has been transferred to New Delhi.
Friday’s development is seen as a "partial diplomatic victory" by India as the US refused to drop the charges, only granting full immunity.
The full diplomatic immunity entitles 39-year-old Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, to travel out of the United States without facing the allegations of visa fraud and underpayment to the maid.
"I will show my immunity to the court. The court will see that I have diplomatic immunity. Only then will I leave the US," Press Trust of India quoted Khobragade as saying before leaving the US.
The Indian Foreign Ministry said Khobragade was accorded the privileges and immunities of a diplomatic envoy on January 8 under the terms of Section 15 of the Headquarters Agreement between the United Nations and the US.
Khobragade affirmed her determination to ensure that the episode will not have a "lasting impact" on her family, including her two daughters who are still in the US.
With India taking a swift "retaliatory" action, the diplomatic row between India and the US seem to continue the lingering bitterness between the two nations.
The US approved Khobragade’s accreditation at India’s Permanent Mission at the United Nations on Wednesday helping the indicted diplomat to fly back toIndia.
On December 18, India transferred Khobragade to India’s Permanent Mission in New York hoping that the diplomat would receive full immunity.
A top US official reportedly said that the refusal to grant the accreditation request "would be almost without precedent . . . except in the event of national security risks, including espionage."
The charges against Khobragade will remain in the US court on two counts: charges of visa fraud and making false statements. The diplomat, who is married to a US national, would face trial if she returns to the US without any diplomatic immunity.
India pressed for criminal charges against Khobragade to be dropped, taking a slew of "retaliatory" measures against the US Embassy and consular officials.
On January 8, India asked the US Embassy in Delhi to stop commercial activities by January 16 including its restaurant, bar, bowling alley, beauty parlour, gym, tennis court, swimming pool on the grounds that the presence of all those facilities violated the Vienna Convention.
On January 7, Khobragade’s father Uttam Khobragade, a retired Indian diplomat, protested outside the US Consulate in Mumbai demanding that the charges against his daughter were false and should be waived.
On December 17, India withdrew a host of privileges accorded to all US Consular officials in India including the withdrawal of airport passes, cancellation of import duty waivers on food and liquor. Security barricades outside the US Embassy in Delhi were also removed in retaliation to the arrest of the diplomat.
Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, was arrested by the police in New York Police on the morning of December 12 while she was dropping off her young daughters to school. She was publicly handcuffed, allegedly strip-searched and placed in a prison cell. She was released on bail of $250,000 in the evening.
Khobragade was allegedly paying Richard $3.11 per hour instead of the promised mandatory US wage of $9.75.
However, Indian officials portray a more complicated legal picture, saying that Richard, Khobragade's maid, has been absconding since June last year as a Delhi high court had issued an interim injunction in September restraining her from instituting any action or proceedings against Khobragade outside India, according to the terms and conditions of her employment.
The Indian Embassy in Washington had requested the US government to locate Richard and facilitate the implementation of an arrest warrant, issued by the Metropolitan Magistrate of the South District Court in New Delhi.

Anadolu Agency, January 10, 2014

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