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December 17, 2013

US Arrest of Indian Diplomat Sparks Dispute

by Anjana Pasricha

The treatment of an Indian diplomat arrested in New York on visa fraud charges has turned into a diplomatic dispute between Washington and New Delhi.  Top officials boycotted a visiting U.S. Congressional delegation in protest over the incident.
 
The Indian diplomat at the heart of escalating tensions between India and Washington is Devyani Khobragade, 39, deputy consul general at the Indian consulate in New York.
 
She was arrested on Thursday in New York while dropping her daughter off at school. She faces criminal charges of lying on a visa form about how much she paid her housekeeper.
 
In India, there is outrage at reports that she was handcuffed in public, later strip- searched and briefly held in a jail cell with drug addicts. She was released on $250,000 bail, after pleading not guilty.
 
Indian officials described the diplomat's treatment as "humiliating, despicable and barbaric".
 
Indian Foreign Minister, Salman Khurshid, said Tuesday that New Delhi takes the incident very seriously.

“We feel very extreme level of distress in terms of human element that is involved. A person, the officer being subjected to that form of indignity is for us completely unacceptable," he said. "Therefore, I can only say this to you, whatever needs to be done is being done. It is already in process. We have put in motion what we believe would be effective way of addressing this issue.”
 
In a diplomatic rebuff, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde canceled his meeting with a five-member delegation of U.S.Congressmen which is visiting New Delhi. Ruling Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi and opposition leader Narendra Modi also canceled their meetings with the group.
 
New Delhi also asked all officials at U.S. consulates in India to return identity cards which give them diplomatic benefits. This is among a slew of measures India is reported to be mulling to review immunity and benefits enjoyed by the consulates.
 
The U.S. says New York police followed standard procedures in arresting the diplomat. On Monday in Washington, U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson, Marie Harf was asked about diplomatic immunity for Devyani Khobragade.
 
“There are different kinds of immunity," noted Harf. "This isn't just in the U.S., it's all around the world. So in this case, she fell under that specific kind of immunity, and would be liable to arrest pending trial pursuant a felony arrest warrant."
 
U.S. prosecutors allege Khobragade was paying her housekeeper less than the legal minimum wage, which was much less than the approximately $4,500 a month she stated on visa applications.