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India asks US to remove embassy officer

Demand adds twist to row over arrest of Indian consular officer indicted for visa fraud but allowed to leave US.

Last updated: 10 Jan 2014 22:31
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India has asked the United States to withdraw an embassy employee in a fresh act of retaliation just as a dispute over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York appeared to be drawing to a close.

Relations between the two governments have been in crisis since December 12 when Devyani Khobragade, a senior Indian consulate employee, was arrested for alleged visa fraud and making false statements relating to the employment of a domestic servant.

On Friday, Khobragade arrived in the Indian capital New Delhi after leaving the US overnight. 

I just want to thank my nation for the support that they have given me.

Devyani Khobragade, Indian diplomat

"I just want to thank my nation for the support that they have given me," Khobragade said, refusing to comment  further.

She was charged in a New York court on Thursday, but was granted full diplomatic immunity by the US shortly beforehand, which allowed her to return home on Friday.

The decision to risk escalating the row again by demanding the withdrawal of a US embassy officer in New Delhi came as a surprise.

The American was a "similar rank" to Khobragade and is suspected of having helped the family of her maid, Sangeeta Richard, travel to America where they were granted protection by prosecutors.

The State Department said it was complying, although with "deep regret".

US prosecutors said that the family of the maid were evacuated from India to the US because of attempts to intimidate them.

'False' charges

Syed Akbaruddin, India's Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on Friday that Khobragade was being transferred to a post in New Delhi.

Federal prosecutors announced an indictment against Khobragade on Thursday.

However, a letter to judges from prosecutors said Khobragade had been given full diplomatic status and the case against her would not proceed.

"There will not need to be an arraignment on the indictment scheduled at this time," the letter said. "We understand that the defendant was very recently accorded diplomatic immunity status.

Khobragade has asserted that the charges against her were "false and baseless".

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"The charges against me are false and baseless. I look forward to proving them wrong," she told India's PTI news agency before boarding the plane back to India.

Uttam Khobragade, her father, said his daughter rejected an offer of a plea bargain to resolve the dispute and be allowed to stay in the US. Her children and husband, a US citizen of Indian origin, will soon follow her to India, he said.

Khobragade was strip-searched during her detention, a procedure that caused outrage in India and prompted John Kerry, US secretary of state, to express regret to Indian officials.

'Waiver of immunity'

After her arrest the Indian government transferred Khobragade, from her role at the Indian consulate to the UN mission in New York - a transfer that afforded her diplomatic immunity.

The US State Department is given the option to refuse such transfers.

However, Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington DC, quoted a US government official as saying that it would have been unprecedented to do so.

Meanwhile, Richard, the maid, in her first public statement since the news broke last month, said that she suffered while working for Khobragade and asked other domestic workers not to let anyone "exploit" them.

"I never thought that things would get so bad here, that I would work so much that I did not have time to sleep or eat or have time to myself," Richard said in a statement released by the anti-trafficking group Safe Horizon.

Documents filed in a Manhattan court show Khobragade declared paying her maid $4,500 a month, when in fact she received only $500 a month - about $3.31 per hour and far less than the $9.75 minimum wage in the state of New York.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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