India looking closely at US role in maid family trip | india | Hindustan Times
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India looking closely at US role in maid family trip

After it formally downgraded the immunity enjoyed by US consular staff on Tuesday, the next issue India may raise with the United States in its ongoing spat over arrested diplomat Devyani Khobragade revolves around the “evacuation” of the family of nanny Sangeeta Richard.

india Updated: Dec 25, 2013 00:48 IST
HT Correspondent

After it formally downgraded the immunity enjoyed by US consular staff on Tuesday, the next issue India may raise with the United States in its ongoing spat over arrested diplomat Devyani Khobragade revolves around the “evacuation” of the family of nanny Sangeeta Richard.

Senior external affairs ministry officials called in US deputy chief of mission Michael Pelletier to explain formally the downgrading of the immunity and other privileges enjoyed by US consular officials, who had until this point been treated like diplomats. Among other measures, immunity of the family members of consular staff has been withdrawn. Consular staff will also no longer be exempt from facing charges of serious crimes.

Next, as the American side moves to answer Indian queries about salaries paid to Indian staff in the embassy, and the visa status of some of the spouses of embassy staff, the Indians are looking closely at the flight of the Richard family.

It is learnt that the Indians are seized of the fact that some US embassy officials may have misused diplomatic privileges in booking tickets for the husband and children of Richard, and that the move could amount to contempt of court as the Richard family was facing a court case when they left India.

The tickets for Philip Richard and the two children were booked in an Air India flight on December 10 (with an open return ticket return valid up to March 3, 2014). The tickets worth R1,00,895 were exempt from service tax of 4.50% as per the norms followed in the case of diplomatic missions.

In an atmosphere where both sides are watching the other closely, this is being seen as misuse of diplomatic privilege as tax exemption is offered to an embassy for its use and not for whisking Indian citizens away.

Then comes the US interference in the judicial system, on which the MEA has made a public statement questioning the foreign government has to “evacuate” Indian citizens from India “while cases are pending against them in the Indian legal system.” The thinking is growing that this can amount to contempt of court.

“The legal process in another friendly and democratic country is interfered with in this manner, it not only amounts to interference but also raises the serious concern of calling into question the very legal system of that country,” external affairs ministry had said on December 19. US embassy spokesperson Lee McManis would not comment on the issue beyond referring HT to the state department briefing last Thursday.

“We are aware of the existence of allegations that the family was intimidated in India. Obviously, I can’t confirm those. But in general, we take those kinds of allegations very seriously,” an official had said. The Richards are likely to be treated as part of a witness protection programme.