• Sunday, August 31, 2014

Indian visa row diplomat leaves US

BBC Online

An Indian diplomat whose arrest in the US has sparked a diplomatic row has left for India, officials say.

Devyani Khobragade was ordered to leave the US on Thursday after she was indicted on criminal charges and India refused to waive her immunity.

Khobragade was arrested in New York last month on charges of visa fraud and of underpaying her housekeeper.

She was handcuffed and strip-searched, and India demanded an apology for her "humiliation".

Khobragade has always denied any wrongdoing.

A senior US official said Khobragade had departed from New York's John F Kennedy International Airport on Thursday night, heading for India.

Whatever the case, it seems the US blinked first. India had made clear it wasn't going to budge.

"This was a matter of principle on how our diplomats are treated," said Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin, calling the US handling of the case "inexplicable".

The approaching elections also meant the Indian government had to be seen to be taking a tough stand. There was also the fact that Devyani Khobragade was from India's Dalit or untouchable caste - a key vote bank.

India says it now wants to move on with the relationship.

But there's still a lot of bad blood and the dispute has exposed serious misunderstandings between the two countries.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said: "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 a consular official.

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.

US prosecutors said the charges against her would remain pending.

The dispute over the case has affected US-India relations

Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, was arrested after a complaint from the maid, Sangeeta Richard.

Khobragade in turn accused Ms Richard of theft and attempted blackmail.

Delhi said it was "shocked and appalled" at the manner of her arrest, and ordered a series of diplomatic reprisals against the US.

Security barricades around the US embassy in the capital were removed and a visiting US delegation was snubbed by senior Indian politicians and officials.

On Wednesday, the US embassy in Delhi was ordered to stop "commercial activities on its premises". India also said that embassy cars could be penalised for traffic offences.

The embassy has been told to shut down a club within its premises which includes a pool, restaurant and tennis court, NDTV news channel said.

Published: 12:00 am Friday, January 10, 2014

Last modified: 8:35 pm Friday, January 10, 2014

TAGS: India New York Devyani Khobragade visa fraud

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