July 03 2020
Khobragade indicted but allowed to leave U.S.
09 January 2014

Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade left for India after the U.S. converted her visa giving her the protection of full diplomatic immunity under her new role at India’s Permanent Mission at the United Nations.

The development came even as reports quoting unnamed U.S. government officials said that after granting Ms. Khobragade’s request for full U.N. diplomatic immunity, the State Department had “requested her departure” from the country, especially after “the Indians refused… to waive the immunity”.

Thursday was a day filled with dramatic developments in the case as the U.S. prosecutor formally indicted her for visa fraud and for making false statements. Inquiries revealed that it may not be purely coincidental that the indictment and the reports that she was set to leave the country came on the same day.

Her departure, without her children who are still in the U.S., will end the stalemate in Indo-U.S. ties since December 12, 2013, when Dr. Khobragarde was arrested and searched in New York.

India put all bilateral interactions on hold and scaled down privileges to U.S. diplomats while insisting that the U.S. apologise for the rough treatment to her and drop all charges. Washington’s contention that an officer at the Indian consulate was not entitled to full immunity led New Delhi to transfer her to the Permanent Mission.

Even as Ms. Khobragade prepared to board an aircraft in New York, her lawyers hit out at the prosecutors describing their investigation as “shoddy” and accusing U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of making false claims and issuing “baseless charges”.

In one of the strongest statements made so far in a burgeoning war of words between the two sides Daniel Arshack also said that Mr. Bharara’s false statement that Ms. Khobragade had left the U.S. was “emblematic of the series of blunders which has contributed to the false charges brought against her”.

Mr. Arshack said in a statement emailed to The Hindu that the defence in visa fraud case brought by the U.S. against Ms. Khobragade was pleased that Washington “did the right thing today by recognizing the diplomatic status to which Dr. Khobragade has always been entitled”.

At the time of her departure for India, the diplomat reiterated her innocence on charges filed against her and thanked the Indian Government, in particular External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, the people at large and the media for their backing from the time she was arrested and briefly detained.

She also affirmed her determination to ensure that the episode would not leave a lasting impact on her family, in particular, her two children.

Dr. Khobragade’s lawyer also noted that Sangeeta Richard — the domestic worker who alleged that the diplomat underpaid her in violation of a contract that she signed to obtain an A-3 visa for Ms. Richard — and her family “now enjoy permanent residency in the U.S…. as a result of the false claims and shoddy investigation”.

Earlier the U.S. Attorney’s office clarified in a statement that they had been advised by the State Department that, pursuant to a departure request, Ms. Khobragade was scheduled to have left the U.S. on Thursday afternoon. This led the prosecutor to state in a letter sent to the court along with her indictment filing “our understanding that she had left the country”. After that filing, however, Mr. Arshack’s office informed them that she was still in Manhattan with her children and had not, in fact, departed the U.S.

In the statement to The Hindu, the diplomat’s lawyer reaffirmed his belief that Ms. Khobragade “did not make any false statements and she paid her domestic worker what she was entitled to be paid”.

Referring to confusion that appeared to prevail late on Thursday regarding the whereabouts of Ms. Khobragade Mr. Arshack said the prosecutor’s office “well knows” that Ms. Khobragade was in the country “when Preet Bharara falsely claimed otherwise”.

Mr. Arshack asked, “Why would they make that up? Where is the apology?” He also noted that Sangeeta Richard, the domestic worker who alleged that Ms. Khobragade underpaid her in violation of a contract that Ms. Khobragade signed to obtain an A-3 visa for Ms. Richard, and her family “now enjoy permanent residency in the U.S…. as a result of the false claims and shoddy investigation”.

Arguing that the indictment brought by the U.S. in this case was “meaningless based as it is on a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts and documents,” Mr. Arshack said Ms. Khobragade’s right to travel had been recognised by the court and she was “pleased to be returning to her country, her head is held high”.

He also hinted that the defence would argue strongly that Ms. Khobragade had “done no wrong and she looks forward to assuring that the truth is known,” including providing evidence of the prosecution’s “blunders”.

India had to wait for a fortnight for the change in visa status after the U.N. forwarded her application to the U.S. State Department. Officials said India and the U.S. are set to resume discussions to bring greater intensity in bilateral ties with then end of the tussle over the prosecution of the diplomat in a U.S. court over visa fraud charges. The first major interaction could be that of Energy Secretary Ernest Monitz whose visit was announced as cancelled merely 12 hours back.

A MEA statement confirming her departure from the U.S., said Dr. Khobragade had been accorded 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 on January 8.



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