US visa fraud case: Arrest warrant issued against Devyani

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Mar 15, 2014 12:25 IST
A-file-photo-of-Indian-diplomat-in-New-York-Devyani-Khobragade-chevening-org

A US grand jury on Friday indicted Devyani Khobragade on same criminal charges contained in the first indictment dismissed by a New York court earlier in the week.

A warrant for her arrest has also been issued.

The Indian diplomat is charged with visa fraud and making false statements that could together get her a maximum of 15 years in jail if she was ever tried and convicted.

Khobragade is in India, after she was asked to leave by the US on January 9 — the day she was indicted first — after India refused to waive her newly-acquired diplomatic immunity.

“A grand jury has returned a true bill today on a two-count criminal indictment of Devyani Khobragade,” said the office of US attorney Preet Bharara in an announcement on Friday.

In dismissing the earlier indictment on Wednesday, New York judge Shira A. Scheindlin had said she had only looked at Khobragade’s immunity status.

But, she had added, “if the acts charged in the indictment were not ‘performed in the exercise of official functions,’ then there is currently no bar to a new indictment.”

If the alleged criminal acts by the diplomat were not committed during the exercise of official functions, the prosecutors were free to come back with a new indictment.

The Indian ministry of of external affairs had seen the new indictment coming and had warned against it.

“We note that the judgment does not consider the merits of the case, or our well-known position, including on the admissibility of the arrest of Devyani Khobragade in December 2013,” it had said after the dismissal of the earlier case.

“Given the importance both sides attach to their bilateral strategic partnership, the government hopes to see further progress in this matter in a manner consistent with international norms and conventions.”

India has long argued that Khobragade should never have been charged, or indeed arrested, at all as she was covered by full diplomatic immunity at all times, citing reciprocity.

India has maintained that the US had no business acting on the complaints of the diplomat’s housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard, as their dispute was already in court in India.

The new indictment means Khobragade, who is married to an Indian American, will be tried whenever she returns to the US, unless the case lapses under the statute of limitation.

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