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US hopes row over Indian diplomat's arrest won't affect bilateral ties

Dec 18 2013, 12:19 IST
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Deputy Consul General in New York Devyani Khobragade was arrested by US law enforcement authorities on visa fraud charges and released on a USD 250,000 bond after she pleaded not guilty. Deputy Consul General in New York Devyani Khobragade was arrested by US law enforcement authorities on visa fraud charges and released on a USD 250,000 bond after she pleaded not guilty.
SummaryDevyani Khobragade was handcuffed in public on visa fraud charges before being released on bail.

The US has hoped that the major diplomatic row over the arrest of the Indian Deputy Consul General in New York will not affect bilateral ties with India.

In a major diplomatic embarrassment to India, 39-year-old Devyani Khobragade, a 1999-batch IFS officer, was taken into custody on Thursday as she was dropping her daughter to school and handcuffed in public on visa fraud charges before being released on a USD 250,000 bond after pleading not guilty.

"We are handling this incident through law enforcement channels. We have a long-standing partnership with India, and we expect that that partnership will continue," US State Department spokesperson said.

The State Department, however, refused to comment on the specific case, describing it as a pending matter in court.

Khobragade's arrest, only a day after Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh concluded her highly successful Washington trip, has caused a major diplomatic crisis between India and the US.

Lodging a strong protest against the arrest of Deputy Consul General in New York, India has conveyed to the US that such a kind of a treatment to its diplomat is "absolutely unacceptable".

"It was conveyed in no uncertain terms that this kind of treatment to one of our diplomats is absolutely unacceptable," the Indian Embassy said in a statement yesterday after the Charge d'Affaires Taranjit Singh Sandhu met senior officials of the US State Department.

Singh also asked the US officials to resolve the matter at the earliest during the meeting.

In Delhi, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh yesterday summoned US Ambassador Nancy Powell to convey India's "shock" over "absolutely unacceptable" treatment meted out to the senior Indian diplomat.

After the arrest, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal discussed the matter with the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian Embassy.

"It was emphasised that Dr. Devyani Khobragade is a diplomat, who is in the US in pursuance of her duties and hence is entitled to the courtesy due to a diplomat in the country of her work," the embassy statement said.

"She is also a young mother of two small children. Government of India is shocked and appalled at the manner in which she has been humiliated by the US authorities," it added.

Khobragade's attorneys emphasised that she has diplomatic immunity, whereas the federal law enforcement authorities have argued that her alleged visa fraud is not covered under the Vienna Convention.

"Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Indian Deputy Consul General enjoys immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions," a US State Department spokesperson said.

Eminent Indian-American attorney Ravi Batra said in the absence of a category for diplomatic foreign domestic workers, which exempts them from US labour laws, including, wages and hours, American laws must be followed to avoid both criminal and civil liability.

"Foreign nations who pay their workers at or near US labour rates are free from this risk. However, of 194 countries, most nations are below US-mandated hours and wage standards, and to this later group's diplomatic corps – they remain at high risk to be in the cross-hairs of illegality and reputation-suicide," Batra said.

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