The diplomatic row between New Delhi and Washington flared up Friday, with India asking the American embassy to withdraw one of its officials soon after Devyani Khobragade was asked to the leave the US after being charged with visa fraud and making false statements.
The 39-year-old diplomat, whose December 12 arrest and strip search triggered a furore in India and a standoff with the US, reached Delhi on Friday night.
Earlier in New York, a grand jury indicted Khobragade for visa fraud and making false statements about employment of her housekeeper Sangeeta Richard. She was told to leave the US immediately after India refused to waive her diplomatic immunity to face trial and transferred her to Delhi.
Charges against Khobragade will remain pending, which means that if she returns to the US without diplomatic immunity, she will be tried. She is married to an Indian-American and the couple have two children, both US citizens.
Khobragade’s return seems to have widened the rift between the two sides, with India asking Americans — only the second time ever — to remove an officer from its embassy in Delhi.
HT has learnt that the diplomat given “little more than 48 hours” to leave India is Wayne May, a counsellor instrumental in granting visa and helping Richard’s husband and two children’s “evacuation” to the US.
Both Indian and US officials refused to respond to HT’s query about the name of the diplomat, which has not been made public.
The US deeply regretted India’s decision to “expel” one of its diplomats, but hoped a closure had been reached on the Khobragade issue, the US said.
Another US diplomat, who purchased the tickets for the Richards availing tax exemption, could be in trouble next.
“India has reason to believe that this officer was involved in processes relating to Khobragade case and subsequent unilateral action by the US,” official sources said.
On Thursday, the US finally approved Khobragade’s accreditation to the UN which gave her full immunity against the partial immunity she had as deputy consul general at the time of her arrest.
“There will not need to be an arraignment on the indictment scheduled at this time. We understand that the defendant was very recently accorded diplomatic immunity status,” main prosecutor Preet Bharara, who is the US attorney for the southern district of New York, said.
“The US requested a waiver of immunity, India denied,” said a US government official. “The US requested her departure.” But she was not declared persona non grata, which can be serious.
“The US government requested the government of India to waive the immunity of counsellor Khobragade. On 9th January 2014, the government of India declined to do so and transferred counsellor Khobragade to the ministry of external affairs in New Delhi,” the ministry said in a statement.
With Khobragade refusing to plead guilty, and the US refusing to drop charges, the best case scenario for India was getting a G-1 visa meant for diplomats working for international organisations such as the US. However, she can be in trouble if she goes back to the US without such an immunity. “... the charges will remain pending until such time as she can be brought to court to face the charges, either through a waiver of immunity or the defendant’s return to the United States in a non-immune status...,” Bharara said.
In a statement, Richard thanked rights groups and US officials for support. “I would like to tell other domestic workers who are suffering as I did -- you have rights and do not let anyone exploit you,” the statement read.