STRIP-SEARCHED INDIAN DIPLOMAT RETURNS HOME AFTER US GRANTS IMMUNITY
NEW DELHI — India’s government said Saturday that there was no standoff with the United States over the arrest and strip search of an Indian diplomat in New York, as both countries appear eager to defuse the monthlong dispute.
After meeting with the diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, following her return to New Delhi, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid downplayed tensions with the U.S., saying the two countries would sort out their issues.
Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, was indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury on accusations that she exploited her Indian-born housekeeper and nanny, allegedly having her work more than 100 hours a week for low pay and lying about it on a visa form. She denies the charge.
She was allowed to return home in an apparent compromise with India, and arrived in New Delhi on Friday night.
“There is no reason now to feel any immediate concern about any outcome that might be adverse or particularly disturbing in nature,” Khurshid told reporters Saturday. “In due course, we will take up all issues one by one and sort them out.”
After the United States requested that Khobragade leave the country, India asked Washington on Friday to withdraw a diplomat from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. The State Department said it would comply, although with “deep regret.”
“We expect and hope that this will now come to closure, and the Indians will now take significant steps with us to improve our relationship and return it to a more constructive place,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.
Much of India’s outrage stems from the circumstances of Khobragade’s arrest, which were seen as unnecessarily humiliating. Khobragade was picked up Dec. 13 and then strip-searched while in custody, which the U.S. Marshals say is common practice.
India also unleashed a steady stream of retaliatory measures against U.S. diplomats. Some of the measures, such as preventing the American Center in New Delhi from screening movies, were seen by some observers as petty. But others raised alarm, including removing concrete traffic barriers around the U.S. Embassy and revoking diplomats’ ID cards.
Asked about restoring the privileges of U.S. diplomats in New Delhi, Khurshid said they would be treated the same as diplomats from other countries.
“I don’t think we should be seen as showing more favour to one and less favour to others,” he said Saturday in an interview with CNN-IBN, an Indian television news channel, refuting criticism that U.S. diplomats enjoyed greater privileges in New Delhi than their counterparts from other countries.
He also said a visit to India by U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz would be rescheduled soon. The visit was cancelled by Washington as the controversy over Khobragade’s treatment raged in New Delhi.
Ties with the United States have chilled in recent years over several serious policy issues, including India’s delays in enacting more business-friendly reforms and the U.S. National Security Agency’s alleged spying on New Delhi and other foreign governments.
The U.S. charges against Khobragade will remain pending until she can be brought to court, either through a waiver of immunity or her return to the U.S. without immunity status, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
U.S. prosecutors say Khobragade claimed to pay Richard $4,500 per month in order to obtain a visa for her. But they say Khobragade actually paid Richard $573 per month and often forced her to work more than 100 hours a week without a single full day off. The long hours meant Richard was earning $1.42 or less per hour, the indictment says.
After about six months of working for Khobragade, Richard fled and sought help from a non-profit group that works with human trafficking victims because Khobragade refused to hand over her passport and allow her to return home, according to the indictment.
It also alleges that after the housekeeper fled, Khobragade and a relative tried to intimidate Richard’s family in India by demanding they reveal Richard’s whereabouts. Khobragade also launched a legal complaint against Richard in India.
The issue of immunity has been a key aspect of the case. Federal officials initially argued that Khobragade’s immunity was limited to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions. But on Thursday, the U.S. accepted India’s request to accredit her to the United Nations, which confers broader immunity. It would have been almost unprecedented for the U.S. to deny such a request unless she posed a national security risk.
The United States then asked India to waive the newly granted immunity so it could prosecute Khobragade, but the Indians refused. As a result, the U.S. asked her to leave the country.
Associated Press writers Larry Neumeister in New York and Matthew Pennington and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report
This report was made available to The Global Calcuttan by i-copywrite.
Timeline of Khobragade’s Ordeal
12 December 2013: Khobragade is arrested on charges of visa fraud, near a school where she had gone to drop off her daughter. She claims to have diplomatic immunity, but the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) does not acknowledge her immunity status as per their interpretation of Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR).
– The US prosecutors accuse Khobragade of underpaying her housekeeper Sangeeta Richard.
– At the police station, she is strip-searched by a lady officer and sent to a cell with two other lady convicts. She is handcuffed when produced before the judge.
– The US authorities say the strip search and handcuffing are as per the procedure.
13 December: The date of her hearing fixed for January 13, 2014 with a pre-trial process on 16 December, 2013.
– Sujatha Singh, India’s Foreign Secretary, summons US ambassador Nancy Powell and tells her that India is not happy at the diplomat’s treatment.
16 December: India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid strongly protests against the arrest of Khobragade and the manner in which it was carried out ignoring her diplomatic status.
Khobragade is produced in court before the US Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman, and released in late afternoon on a bail for $250,000 bonds. She surrenders her passport.
18 December: Bharara says Khobragade’s treatment was a “standard practice for every defendant, rich or poor, American or not, in order to make sure that no prisoner keeps anything on his person that could harm anyone, including himself. This is in the interests of everyone’s safety”.
– India responds furiously to the arrest stripping off the security barricades outside the American diplomatic post in Delhi. The American diplomats have also been asked to turn in their ID cards, which grant them special privileges. Some critics have called the reprisal irresponsible.
-Khobragade’s email to her diplomatic colleagues leak, in which she alleged stripping and cavity searches.
-The diplomatic spat stirs a hot session in Indian parliament where scores of leaders have called for harsher response. Indian officials dub Khobragade’s arrest as “barbaric”. Some Indian leaders want to strip the US diplomats naked and threaten to detain the gay partners of the envoys.
– India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calls the act “deplorable”.
-Delhi transfers Khobragade to the UN mission in New York in a bid to provide her with full diplomatic immunity avoiding arrest.
19 December: As the situation snowballs, US Secretary of State John Kerry telephones India’s National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon to express “regret”, nonetheless, he stopped short of an apology, a demand which India persisted.
-Murky details about Khobragade’s maid Richard emerges. Richard’s family – her husband and children – were evacuated to the US, two days ahead of Khobragade’s arrest, alleging the family was intimidated in India.
20 December: Bharara, who is spearheading the case against Khobragade, releases a surprise 727-worded statement explaining the legalities of the case and justifying his point of view.
-While the US distances itself from Bharara’s statement, India rubbishes the remarks.
-People in the American diplomatic community quietly express displeasure over the manner in which the row has broken out.
-Rights groups comprising about 50 members staged protests outside the Indian consulate in New York City voicing for Richard.
23 December: The UN approves a request from India to accredit Khobragade awaiting the US approval.
-With full diplomatic immunity, the Indian diplomat was exempted from personally appearing in the court regarding the case.
-Washington says no retroactive immunity for Khobragade even if she is shifted to the UN and is determined to pursue the case.
27 December: Newly appointed Indian ambassador to the US Jaishankar holds talks with Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and the Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy demanding the US to withdraw the charges against Khobragade.
1 January: The US ambassador to India Nancy Powell for the first time expresses regret over treatment of the Indian diplomat.
4 January: The US State Department condemns the hoax video of Khobragade being stripped searched calling it as “dangerous and provocative fabrication”.
The timeline of events immediately before her departure:
8 January: India shuts down the commercial activities taking place at the US embassy in Delhi.
-The US mission to United Nations confers diplomatic immunity on Khobragade and accredits her as a member of India’s permanent mission.
-New York Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn rejects extension of 13 January indictment deadline, sought by Khobragade’s lawyers.
-US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz postpones a trip to India, as the India-US diplomatic row worsens.
9 January: India refuses the US’s request to waive Khobragade’s immunity.
-US mission to UN requests Khobragade’s departure.
-Bharara says Khobragade has been indicted by grand jury on charges of visa fraud and making false statements. In a letter to the court, prosecutors also say they have been told Khobragade has been granted diplomatic immunity and has left the country.
-US District Judge Shira Scheindlin gives Khobragade permission to leave the country in accordance with US government’s stance.
-Bharara initially told the court that according to the state department, Khobragade had already left the country. However, it turned out to be a false report after Khobragade’s attorney Arshack appraised the court that she was still at home with her husband and children.
-After getting permission from the US district court, Arshack confirmed that Khobragade was planning to leave US on the night of 9 January, but did not specify the details of flight.
10 January: Khobragade is on her way back to India on diplomatic immunity.
11 January: Khobragade arrives in India as Delhi expels a Director-ranking US envoy as part of its reprisal. The US regrets India’s latest retaliation.