Wednesday, January 08, 2014

US Embassy told to stop all commercial activities

A file photo of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade 
NEW DELHI (AA) - Stepping up the ante over the arrest and subsequent prosecution of its diplomat Devyani Khobragade in United States, India on Wednesday asked the US embassy to stop all commercial activities in its New Delhi premises by January 16, sources said.
Hardening its stand, the Indian government asked the US embassy to discontinue commercial activities including its restaurant, bar, bowling alley, beauty parlour, gym, tennis court etc. as the presence of all these facilities violates the Vienna Convention.
Indian officials maintain that the extension of commercial activities to non-diplomats is a violation of Article 41(3) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, which India is no longer willing to ignore.
Indian officials cited the relevant provision of the the convention which states that “the premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State”.
Press Trust of India reported that the embassy has also been asked to provide the tax returns filed by it with Indian authorities for commercial activities which are afforded through American Community Support Association (ACSA) to non-diplomatic persons including private American citizens and their families.
It has also been communicated to the embassy that its diplomatic cars would have to follow local traffic laws and the failure of which would incur penalties.
Wednesday’s development into the Indo-US diplomatic spat comes ahead of January 13 deadline for the indictment of Khobragade in a New York court. On Tuesday, defence lawyer for Khobragade sought for the extension of the deadline which was opposed by Indian-American prosecutor Preet Bharara.
Khobragade is accused of visa fraud and underpayment to her Indian maid Sangeeta Richard.
39-year old Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, was arrested by New York Police Department on the morning of December 12 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 $250,000 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 action 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.
On Tuesday, Khobragade’s father Uttam Khobragade, a retired Indian diplomat, protested outside the Mumbai US Consulate demanding that the charges against his daughter were false and should be waived.
US authorities including Secretary of State John Kerry have expressed regret last month over the circumstances of Khobragade’s arrest but the Indian side demands a clear and unambiguous apology.
On December 18, India transferred Khobragade to India’s Permanent Mission in New York hoping that the diplomat would get full immunity but US authorities are yet to process the request.

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 waiver on food and liquor etc. Security barricades outside the Delhi embassy were also removed in retaliation to the arrest of the diplomat.
Anadolu Agency, January 8, 2013

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