NEW DELHI/NEW YORK - Amid mounting tensions between India and US, the Congress government on Friday expelled an American diplomat of a rank similar to that of Devyani Khobragade on a ‘reciprocal basis’ even as she was withdrawn from the Indian Embassy there by the US govt allowing her to return to India.
Khobragade, who arrived in New Delhi on Friday evening, was sent back to India on G-1 diplomatic US visa. However, this was certainly not an end to the month-long saga that started on December 12 last year with her arrest on charges of visa fraud and allegedly making false statements about the salary of her housekeeper – Sangeeta Richard – who accompanied her to New York on November 2012.
Apparently, the Indian government has asked US Embassy to withdraw the ‘Director’ rank diplomat within the next couple of days since he was involved in Khobragade case.
“We have reasons to believe that the (US Embassy) officer was closely involved in the processes relating to the case under consideration and subsequent unilateral action by the US,” Indian media quoted sources as saying while it did not disclose the name of the diplomat.
It is believed that this US diplomat was involved in assisting Richard’s family to leave for US. When contacted, the US Embassy also refused to provide the name and designation of the expelled diplomat.
Earlier, the Indian diplomat left US after her indictment by a federal grand jury in New York Thursday on charges of visa fraud and making false statements regarding the employment of a domestic worker.
The indictment, however, came just hours after the State Department moved to resolve the case in a way that allowed the diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, to leave the country without facing the allegations in court.
Khobragade, 39, was ordered to leave the US on Thursday after she was indicted on criminal charges and India refused to waive her immunity.
She was handcuffed and strip-searched, and India demanded an apology for her ‘humiliation’.
Ms Khobragade has always denied any wrongdoing. Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said in New Delhi: “At the time of her departure to India, Counsellor Khobragade reiterated her innocence of 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, as also the media, for their strong and sustained support during this period.”
On Thursday, US officials said they had accepted India’s request to accredit Ms Khobragade to the UN, which confers broader immunity than that enjoyed by as India’s deputy consul general.
It would be almost unprecedented for the US to have denied such a request unless the diplomat was a national security risk.
Washington then asked the Indian government to waive the immunity but India refused, so the US then “requested her departure”, US officials said.
Khobragade’s immunity is not retroactive, and the charges against her are “pending until such time as she can be brought to court to face them” in a non-immune status, said Preet Bharara, the India-born US attorney for Manhattan. That would seem to limit any future plans Khobragade may have to visit or reside in this country. “Her husband and children are US citizens, so she wants to be here, one would assume,” a US official said.
The indictment charges Khobragade with two counts of visa fraud and false statements, alleging that she tried to circumvent US wage requirements by submitting to visa authorities a falsified contract for the domestic employee whom she brought from India.
Once the employee, Sangeeta Richard, ran away, the indictment alleges, Khobragade arranged for relatives in India to contact the worker’s family there in an attempt “to silence and intimidate the victim and her family and lie to Indian authorities and courts.”
In a statement released Thursday by Safe Horizon, a victim assistance organisation in New York that represents her, Ms Richard welcomed the indictment and said: “I would like to tell other domestic workers who are suffering as I did — you have rights and do not let anyone exploit you.”
On Wednesday, a federal judge denied Khobragade’s request to extend the Jan 13 deadline before which prosecutors had to indict her. Khobragade had hoped that negotiations between the State Department and the Indian government would result in the charges, first lodged Dec 12, being dropped. Bharara had opposed the extension, leading Khobragade’s attorney to allege that he was acting in bad faith.
To show its displeasure, the Indian government has taken measures ranging from seemingly small to serious. It removed security barricades outside the US Embassy in New Delhi. Last week, it asked the embassy not to screen movies at the American Center without obtaining domestic licences. Indian officials have alleged that some spouses of diplomats teach at the embassy school illegally, and the embassy has been asked to provide details about teachers and their salaries. The Indian government has also told the New Delhi police to waive immunity for traffic violations involving embassy vehicles — a common diplomatic courtesy.
Although the Indian government had pressed the Obama administration to resolve the issue, the State Department had repeatedly indicated that its hands were tied and it could not intervene in a law enforcement matter.