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Many US consular staff in India handed in their identity cards on Monday, ending the special privileges enjoyed by them even as it emerged that the US embassy paid for the tickets of the family of the absconding maid of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, whose arrest triggered a diplomatic row between the two countries.
The tickets for the maid Sangeeta Richard’s husband Philip and their two children – Jennifer and Jatin – were issued by the official travel agency of the US embassy and were exempt from service tax as is the norm for diplomatic missions, sources said.
India’s deadline for the return of identity cards of US officials ended on Monday. The US authorities have asked for more time.
Once the new cards are issued, consular officials won’t be able to claim immunity for any major crimes. Though by law, consular officials are entitled for lesser immunity as enshrined by the Vienna Convention on Consular Matters, New Delhi was very liberal in granting them immunity at par with those on diplomatic duty. “Though there were violations in the past by the US consular officials, we never ever arrested any. That’s going to change”, said a senior government official.
Its embassy in New Delhi apart, US has consulates in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad. The Indian government has already ended the special privileges of the US diplomats and consular officials at Indian airports. India has also asked for salary details of staff at US missions and salary received by US citizens, which will be tested as per Indian tax laws.
Meanwhile, Khobragade also received her accreditation to the Indian permanent mission to the United Nations on Monday, a transfer that is expected to grant her full diplomatic immunity from further prosecution and arrest.
Khobragade also was granted exemption from appearing at a pre-trials service on Monday. This, however, doesn’t exempt her from all personal appearances in court, where she has to appear when scheduled, her lawyer said.