WASHINGTON - A minor error on the part of a United States law enforcement agent may have led to the arrest of the Indian diplomat, causing a major row between the two countries.
According to reports quoting the diplomat Devyani Khobragade’s lawyer Daniel Arshack, the purported misreading of the $4,500 as entered in the visa application form triggered her arrest, Aljazeera reported.
The visa application form DS-160 was filled in by Khobragade to bring her nanny Sangeetha Richard into the US. In the application, Khobragade entered the figure of $4,500 as the salary she expected to be paid and not what she would pay Richard, the reports said. But, Mark Smith, a diplomatic security services agent who led the investigation against Khobragade and effected her arrest may have seriously erred in reading the figure of $4,500 as the salary to be paid to the nanny. Smith “simply made an error in reading the DS-160 form which supported the visa application for the domestic worker, Sangeeta Richard”, news agencies quoted Arshack as saying.
“He erroneously and disastrously believed that the $4,500 per month salary entry on the form was Richard’s expected salary when, in fact, it was clearly a reporting of the base salary to be earned by the employer, Khobragade, in the US,” the agencies said, quoting Arshack. The entry of the Indian diplomat’s base salary of $4,500 in the DS-160 form was a mandatory requirement. This form is the online non-immigrant visa application required to be submitted by those seeking US visas. The purpose behind revealing her salary is to enable US embassy officials in New Delhi to determine that Khobragade earns enough to pay her nanny the $1,560 per month ($9.75 per hour for a 40-hour week) which was the deal between the diplomat and Richard.
Arshack was quoted as saying that “somebody who messes up on the paperwork and causes a terrible thing to occur is very very serious”.
The purported misreading caused US immigration authorities to conclude that Khobragade was declaring one amount while actually paying another, much lesser, salary. This led to the arrest of the diplomat. The manner of the arrest, which included handcuffing, strip-search and lodging in a cell along with drug addicts, until bail was granted created a furore in the Indian diplomatic community.
New Delhi argued that the arrest flouted the Vienna convention on diplomatic immunity while the US said such immunity was only for consular-related work. In a retaliatory move, New Delhi has downgraded the privileges of US diplomats in India to bring them on par with privileges accorded to Indian diplomats in the US. Backroom talks are also reportedly under way to find a way out of the situation so as not to affect the friendly ties between the two countries.