A federal judge has denied a request by a lawyer for Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade to delay proceedings in a visa fraud case that has strained relations between the United States and India.
In an order issued on Wednesday, US Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn in Manhattan refused to extend the January 13 deadline by which a preliminary hearing must be held or an indictment filed in the case.
In a quick reaction, India indefinitely postponed a scheduled energy dialogue with the US.
US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was to visit New Delhi next week for the next round of energy dialogue, but the meet was cancelled at India’s urging, according to the Hindustan Times newspaper, quoting sources in Washington.
India’s application for full diplomatic immunity to Khobragade after her transfer to the country’s mission at the United Nations is pending before the US state department. The delay in getting US acquiescence is also causing concern, the paper said.
As per US laws, an indictment that formally charges a defendant with the purported offence has to be filed within 30 days of arrest.
Khobragade, who was deputy consul-general in New York, was arrested on December 12 and charged with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements about how much she paid her housekeeper.
Khobragade’s lawyer Daniel Arshack had sought postponement of the indictment deadline by 30 days to February 12.
The lawyer had said this was because discussions were on to resolve the issue and the deadline was hampering that.
The US Attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, who is handling the case opposed Khobragade’s plea and argued that discussions could continue following indictment in the case.
Since Khobragade’s arrest, New Delhi has downgraded diplomatic privileges enjoyed by US consular personnel in India bringing them on par with what Indian diplomats in the US are entitled to.
Khobragade was arrested for allegedly filing wrong information in the visa application of her nanny Sangeetha Richard and also for purportedly underpaying her wages.
What angered New Delhi was the humiliating treatment meted out to Khobragade including handcuffing, strip search and lodging her with drug addicts in prison.
India said the treatment was against the Vienna convention. The US countered saying the Vienna convention only applied to consular-related activities and not to the personal actions of the diplomat.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies