Friday, January 10, 2014

Indian diplomat leaves US after indictment

File photo of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade (Pic: The New Indian Express)
NEW DELHI (AA) - Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, whose arrest in the US has sparked a major diplomatic row, left the United States for India 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 Sangeeta Richard. 

India's Foreign Ministry confirmed that Khobragade has left the US for India, where she has been transferred to an equivalent government post.
"At the time of her departure for India, Counsellor Khobragade reiterated her innocence on the charges filed against her. She affirmed her gratitude to the government of India, in particular to the External Affairs Minister and the people of India, and also the media, for their strong and sustained support during this period," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday morning.
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.
Before leaving the US, Khobragade said, "I will show my immunity to the court. The court will see that I have diplomatic immunity. Only then I will leave the US," reported Press Trust of India.
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 also 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.
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.
The diplomatic row between India and the US seems to have taken an interesting turn with the US State Department approving Khobragade’s accreditation at India’s Permanent Mission at the United Nations. The State Department decision helped the diplomat to fly out the country.
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.
Friday’s development is seen as a "partial diplomatic victory" by India as the US refused to drop the charges, only granting full 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 etc. 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 etc. 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 has been absconding since June this 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, Khobragade's maid, and facilitate the implementation of an arrest warrant, issued by the Metropolitan Magistrate of the South District Court in New Delhi.

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