Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade arrest row escalates as India retaliates, expels US Embassy official

Written by PTI | New Delhi | Updated: Jan 11 2014, 04:05am hrs
Devyani KhobragadeAn Indian government official said the US diplomat was involved in the case relating to Devyani Khobragade.
India today expelled senior US diplomat within hours of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, IFS, being asked to leave the US after her indictment in a visa fraud case for which she was arrested nearly a month ago, triggering strong reaction from the government here - prosecutor Preet Bharara, himself of Indian origin, had said in morning he would wait to prosecute Devyani till she lost her diplomatic immunity.

The unnamed Director-rank American diplomat based here was given "a little more than 48 hours" to leave India even as Devyani Khobragade was on her way home from New York, where the US government finally approved her accreditation to the UN which gave her full diplomatic immunity as against partial immunity at the time of her arrest on December 12 when she was Deputy Consul General there.

India's tit-for-tat action is only the second instance of a US diplomat being expelled, the first instance being expulsion of George Griffin, then political Counsellor, 33 years ago. That was in retaliation against similar action being taken by the US against Prabhakar Menon, an Indian diplomat.

Refraining from using the term "expulsion", official sources said here that the US Embassy has been asked to "withdraw" one of its diplomats of similar rank as that of Devyani Khobragade, which the government "have reasons to believe, is closely involved in the processes relating to this case and subsequent unilateral action by the US." However, the sources did not divulge the name of the American diplomat.

The diplomat was understood to be closely involved in the "evacuation" of the family of Devyani Khobragade's absconding maid Sangeeta Richard.

Earlier today in New York, Devyani Khobragade was indicted for visa fraud and making false statements by a grand jury which held that the charges against her will remain with main prosecutor Preet Bharara saying, "There will not need to be an arraignment on the indictment scheduled at this time. We understand that the defendant was very recently accorded diplomatic immunity status.

"Therefore, 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....".

It is understood that it was always the effort of the government to bring back Devyani Khobragade, who had surrendered her passport after the arrest and was out on a bail of USD 250,000, through G-1 visa route which would have given her full immunity.

39-year-old Khobragade, a 1999-batch IFS officer, had not agreed to any "plea bargain which would have directly or indirectly be the acceptance of the guilt in any form", official sources said.

Apart from trying a "retrospective immunity" to resolve the issue, Indian government also tried legal options but could not achieve much as the prosecution made it clear that it will go ahead with the January 13 deadline for indictment in the case.

It is also understood that the role of the American diplomat, whose withdrawal has been asked by the India, led to the court case in the US against Devyani Khobragade.

Meanwhile, it is believed that any decision on the restoration of the extra privileges of the US diplomats which have been withdrawn to enforce "strict reciprocity" will be taken after considering all "inputs" including that from Khobragade.

Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of India to the UN in New York, Khobragade was accorded on 8th January 2014 the privileges and immunities of a diplomatic envoy under the terms of Section 15 of the Headquarters Agreement between the United Nations and the United States.

At the same time, the US Government requested the Government of India to waive the immunity of Khobragade. On January 9, India declined to do so and transferred her to the Ministry headquarters here, after which the US asked the Indian diplomat to leave.

At the time of her departure for India, Khobragade reiterated her innocence on charges filed against her and also affirmed her determination to ensure that the episode would not leave a lasting impact on her family, in particular, her children, who are still in the US.

Arrested on December 12, the diplomat was strip-searched and held with criminals, triggering a row between the two sides with India retaliating by downgrading privileges of certain category of US diplomats among other steps.


* Diplomat accused of visa fraud over housekeeper

* Case caused big rift in U.S.-India relationship

* India order expulsion of U.S. diplomat in tit-for-tat move

Devyani Khobragade fallout: India expels senior US diplomat

(Reuters) India ordered the United States on Friday to withdraw one of its diplomats from New Delhi, as the Indian consul at the centre of the row between the two countries flew home after she was indicted in New York for visa fraud.

Devyani Khobragade, 39, who India's deputy consul-general in New York, was arrested on Dec. 12 and indicted on Thursday before being effectively expelled from the country. Her arrest set off a furore in India amid disclosures that she was handcuffed and strip-searched.

"We called the U.S. mission to withdraw an officer of similar rank of Devyani as reciprocal action," a government official with knowledge of the decision told reporters.

Tit-for-tat withdrawals of embassy staff are common when countries become locked in diplomatic disputes. The U.S. embassy in Delhi and India's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In New York, a federal grand jury indicted Khobragade for visa fraud and lying about her nanny's pay, but allowed to leave after she was granted a higher level of diplomatic immunity. She faces arrest if she returns to the United States.

The month-long row has soured the broader U.S.-India bilateral relationship, leading to sanctions against American diplomats in New Delhi and the postponement of visits to India by senior U.S. officials and another by a U.S. business delegation.

Incensed by the treatment of Khobragade, India removed some security barriers from near the U.S. embassy and reduced the number of envoys with immunity. On Wednesday, it ordered the U.S. Embassy to close a club for expatriate Americans there.

While both New Delhi and Washington stressed the importance of their bilateral relationship during the crisis, it has taken weeks of complex wrangling to find a workable solution both sides could live with.

It will likely take time to dispel the bad feeling that has built up between New Delhi and Washington. With national elections due in India by May, political parties have seized on the case and labelled it an attack on national sovereignty.

"We'll focus on one day at a time, today is the day we focus on getting Devyani back," said India's foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.

Akbaruddin said Khobragade left after being granted full diplomatic immunity and was being transferred to a post in New Delhi. Her father said she was expected to arrive in the capital late in the evening.

Khobragade risks arrest if she return to the United States. Her husband and children, who are U.S. citizens, are expected to follow her to India shortly, her father said.

"Upon her departure a warrant may be issued for her arrest and should she seek to enter the United States she could be arrested," a U.S. diplomatic note said.

There was no immediate comment from the Indian Embassy in Washington or its mission to the United Nations.

The foreign ministry in New Delhi said in a statement: "At the time of her departure for India, Counsellor Khobragade reiterated her innocence on charges filed against her.

"She also affirmed her determination to ensure that the episode would not leave a lasting impact on her family, in particular, her children, who are still in the United States."