Indian consul gets immunity in US fraud case

Devyani Khobragade, granted diplomatic protection and asked to leave, will not face charges relating to maid.

    An Indian diplomat strip-searched and accused by US authorities of making false statements and visa fraud has escaped prosecution and left the country after being granted diplomatic immunity.

    India's Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said on Friday that Devyani Khobragade left after being granted full diplomatic immunity and was being transferred to a post in New Delhi.

    "At the time of her departure for India, Counsellor Khobragade reiterated her innocence on charges filed against her," the foreign ministry in New Delhi said in a statement.

    Federal prosecutors announced an indictment against Khobragade on Thursday, which accused her of fraudulently obtaining a work visa for her housekeeper by exaggerating how much she paid her.

    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".

    "The charges against me are false and baseless. I look forward to proving them wrong," the Indian envoy 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 United States. Her children and husband, a US citizen of Indian origin, will soon follow her to India, he said.

    Diplomatic immunity

    The charges against me are false and baseless. I look forward to proving them wrong

    Devyani Khobragade, told India's PTI news agency

    Khobragade was detained in New York on December 12 and accused of falsely declaring on a visa application the earnings of Sangeeta Richard, her Indian maid.

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

    Khobragade's maid, in her first public statement since the news broke last month, said that she suffered while working for the Indian envoy 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.

    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.

    "The US requested a waiver of immunity in order for Khobragade’s case to go forward, but India denied it," the official told Al Jazeera. "We have requested her departure, and the charges remain in place."

    Documents filed in a Manhattan court show Khobragade declared paying her maid $4500 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.

    The Indian foreign ministry said on Friday that Khobragade maintained her innocence and had left the US for a job in New Delhi. Her children remain in the US for now, it said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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