Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade’s transfer to India’s United Nations (UN) mission won’t provide her immunity from criminal charges, the US said on Thursday even as it became clear that the US isn’t planning to withdraw the charges.
India, however, didn’t resort to a hardening of its stand with government sources saying they are dealing with “higher level officials in the US on the issue” and hoped the issue will be resolved soon.
“The only question is what you do when something happens that is irksome, that is hurtful, that is unacceptable. We are going to find a solution. And I hope that we will find a solution,” external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said.
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Meanwhile, the US ambassador to India Nancy Powell met with senior officials in the South Block.
India was hoping to end the stand-off, described by some as the worst since 1971, with Khobragade’s transfer to the India’s permanent mission to the UN providing her full diplomatic immunity protecting her from prosecution.
The US, however, has said that “immunity would start on the date it’s conferred,” and not retroactively, as India has been claiming.
The case against Khobragade could also be dismissed if the judge is convinced of Khobragade’s changed immunity status.
Meanwhile, in a new twist to the case, it is now suspected that a senior US diplomat who had served in India, for whom the maid Sangeeta Richard’s father-in-law worked as a driver, may have helped her family escape to the US.
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The US has reacted by stating that Richard’s father-in-law was “privately employed” and not by the embassy or the government.
India has demanded an apology from the US for strip-searching Khobragade and a withdrawal of charges against her. US state department’s diplomatic security wing arrested Khobragade in New York on December 12 for alleged visa fraud in connection with her housekeeper. If convicted, she could get 15 years in jail.
Khobragade’s lawyer Daniel Arshack has been citing a state department guideline on immunity to claim his client will be protected proactively by the transfer to the UN.
The document issued by the state department’s bureau of diplomatic security in 2011 said, “Criminal immunity precludes the exercise of jurisdiction by the courts over an individual whether the incident occurred prior to or during the period in which such immunity exists.”
But state department spokesperson Marie Harf said she was not aware of this guideline -- “don’t even know what statute you’re looking at”, she said when it was read out to her at the daily briefing.
Even if the state department was right, India believes full immunity that comes with the transfer will protect Khobragade future prosecution for those same charges.
Lobbyists in Washington say there has been a hardening in stance within the US diplomatic community after India’s decision to remove security barricades protecting the US embassy in New Delhi. After the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya that led to the death of the ambassador, there is little tolerance on the security issue in Washington.
However, India is receiving support from corporate America with key representatives of US firms urging Washington to hold an internal investigation into Khobragade’s treatment and calling for the diplomatic security men involved to be suspended. State department officials, however, remained noncommittal.
(with inputs from Pramit Pal Chaudhuri)