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India requests removal of U.S. diplomat

Jan. 10, 2014 at 6:21 PM   |   Comments

NEW YORK, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- India Friday demanded a U.S. diplomat leave the American Embassy in New Delhi hours after an Indian consular officer was ousted from the United States.

Devyani Khobragade, 39, departed from the United States Thursday after being indicted by a federal grand jury in New York on charges of visa fraud and making false statements regarding the employment of a domestic worker, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Khobragade is accused of falsifying a contract for her nanny, Sangeeta Richard, and submitting it to visa authorities in an effort to circumvent U.S. wage requirements.

An arraignment has not been scheduled in the case because Khobragade left the country, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

"The charges will remain pending until such time as she can be brought to court to face the charges, either through a waiver of immunity or the defendant's return to the United States in a non-immune status," Bharara wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin.

In response, Indian authorities requested the United States withdraw an unidentified diplomat, the Washington Post reported.

"In India, this will be seen as legitimate and reciprocal response, because our diplomat was sent out of the United States; today's action by India evens the field," said Lalit Mansingh, former Indian envoy to the United States. "Now we should get back to our strategic partnership. But it will take time for dust to settle and recrimination to come down. I hope both sides realize how much damage this has caused our bilateral relations."

The case of Khobragade became extraordinarily complicated and diplomatically touchy for the two countries, drawing wide attention following her arrest Dec. 12 in New York, Voice of America reported.

The circumstances surrounding the arrest of Khobragade, which included a strip search, stoked widespread anger in India, leading to India taking various retaliatory steps against U.S. diplomats in India, seriously threatening the delicate and strong strategic diplomatic relations.

In the case's fast-paced developments leading to her departure from the United States, Khobragade was indicted by a federal grand jury on the visa charges Thursday.

At the time of her arrest last month, the diplomat had been India's deputy consul general in New York, apparently qualifying only for consular immunity, which doesn't rank as high as diplomatic immunity. The Indian government later transferred her to the Indian mission at the United Nations, so she could qualify to upgrade her immunity status.

During the impasse, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had expressed "regret" over her arrest, but India persisted the charges against her should be dropped and an apology forthcoming from Washington.

The Indian External Affairs Ministry news release identified Khobragade's new post as counselor at the Indian U.N. mission.

It said Wednesday she was accorded "the privileges and immunities of a diplomatic envoy" under the terms of an agreement between the United Nations and the United States, meaning Washington had accepted her higher immunity status.

"At the same time, the U.S. government requested the government of India to waive the immunity of counselor Khobragade," but the Indian government Thursday "declined to do so and transferred counselor Khobragade" to New Delhi, the release said.

"At the time of her departure for India, counselor Khobragade reiterated her innocence on charges filed against her," the release said, adding her children were still in the United States.

The State Department official said the charges against her will not be dropped when she leaves the country and she will face them if she returns, VOA reported.

"The charges against me are false and baseless. I look forward to proving them wrong," the Hindustan Times reported Khobragade said as she boarded the plane to India.

The Hindu newspaper said with the departure of Khobragade for India, the stalemate between the two countries has ended.

The report quoted officials as saying India and the United States are now set to resume discussions to bring greater intensity in their bilateral ties.

That step is important as U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Monitz was expected to reschedule his visit to India after it was canceled Thursday. With the visit, India and the United States could strike a deal to benefit from the gigantic shale gas discoveries in the United States that has opened up possibility of huge U.S. exports.

© 2014 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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