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'Conspiracy' behind US arrest of Indian envoy

Indian foreign minister alleges conspiracy as new details emerge surrounding diplomat's dispute with nanny in New York.

Last updated: 19 Dec 2013 06:54
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Hundreds have demonstrated across Indian cities protesting against the diplomat's arrest in the US [EPA]

India has alleged that the recent arrest of one of its top diplomats in the US was part of a conspiracy, a charge that has gained momentum with the emergence of new facts surrounding the incident threatening bilateral ties between the two global powers.

Media reports on Wednesday suggested that Washington acted conspiratorially against Indian advice and legal injunctions, and has even given visas to the family of the nanny - at the heart of the dispute - who is being sought by the Indian police.

Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul-general in the US, was arrested, handcuffed and then strip-searched, on a complaint that she had been paying the nanny Sangeetha Richards less than $3 per hour, far less than the minimum wage stipulated in the US.

The diplomat also faces allegations of filing wrong information in the visa approval form of Richards.

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Richards, who was in the employ of Khobragade, deserted her employer and went missing in June this year. This triggered the series of events leading to the diplomat’s arrest. Richards contacted Khobragade and demanded compensation failing which she threatened to go to US law enforcement agencies.

What gives a conspiratorial twist to "Nannygate" is that despite the fact that the Indian government informed its counterparts in Washington about Richards' actions, the US authorities disregarded the information and seemed to have acted in conjunction with the domestic help.

Indian foreign minister Salman Khurshid openly echoed the suspicions in parliament on Wednesday stating that Khobragade was trapped in a "conspiracy".  He said, "She is innocent. It is not the illegality that she is accused of, but the illegality she refused to oblige."

A Delhi court had a couple of months ago also issued arrest warrant against Richards following a complaint that she attempted to extort money from Khobragade. The US authorities completely ignored the court ruling, reports said.

Also, just two days before the diplomat's arrest, Richards's husband and two children flew out of New Delhi to the US on a special visa. Questions are being asked over the issuance of the T-visa which allows the family to work and stay in the US on the condition they help US enforcement authorities.

US connections?

Technically, Richards is missing but reports suggest that she is in the friendly custody of US authorities. Her husband and the two children too have reportedly joined her in the US.

Incidentally, the husband and the two children in India received their passports only in the last couple of months. Officials in New Delhi have started an inquiry into how they managed to get passports despite being under the scanner of the police.

According to reports, more interesting is the fact that Richards’s father is an employee of the US embassy in New Delhi.  Her mother used to be the housekeeper of a former top US diplomat in the Indian capital. Richards’s husband Philip is reportedly a driver in Delhi’s Mozambique embassy.

Officials in New Delhi are quoted as saying that the proximity of Richards's parents to the US consulate must have helped Richards in her efforts to nail Khobragade, with the help of US enforcement agencies.  

Meanwhile, reacting to Indian anger and measures in retaliation following the "common criminal" type treatment of senior diplomat Khobragade, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the issue must not be allowed to hurt ties between the two friendly countries. 

He also said it was important that all courtesies be extended to foreign diplomats similar to the way the US expects its diplomats to be treated elsewhere.

Prosecutor defends arrest

Meanwhile, US federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, who made the highly unusual move of issuing a lengthy statement addressing the arrest and issues not in a criminal complaint, said on Wednesday that Khobragade was afforded courtesies most Americans wouldn't get - such as being allowed to make phone calls for two hours to arrange child care and sort out personal matters - after she was discretely arrested by US Department of State agents outside her children's Manhattan school.

Bharara said Khobragade wasn't handcuffed, restrained or arrested in front of her children. And he said that while she was "fully searched" in private by a female deputy marshal, the move was a standard safety practice all defendants undergo.

Bharara, who was born in India but moved with his family to New Jersey, defended the case.

"One wonders whether any government would not take action regarding false documents being submitted to it in order to bring immigrants into the country," he said in the statement.

"And one wonders why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?"

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Al Jazeera and agencies
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