India recalled its top diplomat in New Zealand on Saturday following allegations that his wife had assaulted a kitchen staff member who apparently told the police that he was “kept in slavery”.
High commissioner Ravi Thapar denied the allegations and told a newspaper in Wellington that he was returning to India to take care of his mother.
The IFS officer, who has been serving in New Zealand for the past two years, joined an deplorable list of diplomats getting into trouble for allegedly ill-treating their service staff, the most controversial being the Devyani Khobragade incident in 2013 that took India-US ties to an all-time low during the end of the UPA rule.
New Zealand police said Thapar’s cook was found wandering the streets in a distressed state after walking nearly 20km from the high commission. He was taken to a police station and he ended up staying several nights at Wellington Night Shelter.
The man apparently told police through an interpreter that he was physically assaulted by Thapar's wife Sharmila, subjected to slavery and the envoy himself had threatened him with assault.
“The matter was first brought to the notice of the ministry on May 10, 2015, when one of the service staff members of the high commission in New Zealand was found missing,” foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
The alleged assault victim told police that he didn’t want to press charges against the envoy, who enjoyed diplomatic immunity, and his wife.
“Though no charges were pressed by the service staff member, the ministry will investigate the matter further. The high commissioner has been posted back to headquarters,” Swarup said.
Thapar said the man left on his own but within minutes of his leaving the house, he alerted local police and his bosses in Delhi. He alleged that the man tried to concoct a story, but didn't succeed.
Following his alert, a team was sent to New Zealand to ascertain the facts and conduct an independent inquiry. It facilitated the man’s return to India and he was home on May 28.
A removal van was seen at Thapar's Wellington home on Saturday morning and Sharmila refused to answer questions when approached by journalists.
The incident was another blot for the diplomatic corps after Khobragade, the deputy consul general in New York, was arrested and strip-searched by US authorities for apparently underpaying and ill-treating her nanny.
Before that, Prabhu Dayal, the consul general in New York, was charged in 2012 with paying much less than due to his domestic help. In 2010, a US court awarded $1.5 million in compensation to the maid of diplomat Neena Malhota, who faced similar charges.