Accused Indian diplomat flies back to New Delhi
MUMBAI, India -- The diplomat at the center of an ugly spat between the United States and India flew back to New Delhi on Friday after U.S. officials granted her immunity from prosecution on charges of falsifying visa documents and lying about underpaying her housekeeper.
The diplomat, 39-year-old Devyani Khobragade, was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York late Thursday, but the State Department allowed her to leave the United States in a bid to end a monthlong quarrel that has damaged U.S.-India relations.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs said Khobragade “reiterated her innocence on charges filed against her” and expressed gratitude to the Indian people “for their strong and sustained support during this period.”
Uttam Khobragade, her father, told The Times in a phone interview that she had been vindicated, saying, “The people of India have always believed that she has not done anything wrong.”
The U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, said no arraignment on the charges would be scheduled because Khobragade had left the country.
“The charges will remain pending until such time as she can be brought to court to face the charges, either through a waiver of immunity or the defendant’s return to the United States in a non-immune status,” Bharara wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin.
Khobragade was arrested Dec. 12 in Manhattan after dropping her daughters off at school, an incident that sparked a furor in India, where officials complained that the issue wasn’t handled quietly between the governments.
India retaliated by imposing a series of punishments on American personnel in New Delhi, including removing traffic barricades outside the U.S. Embassy and ordering the embassy’s popular social club to cease screening films without approval from Indian censors.
For its part, the U.S. called off visits to India by the assistant secretary of State for South Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal, and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
On Friday, as Khobragade flew home, India reportedly asked the U.S. Embassy to withdraw an American official from New Delhi. “India has reason to believe that this officer was involved in processes relating to Devyani’s case and subsequent unilateral action by U.S.,” the television station NDTV said on its website.
The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Khobragade’s housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard, issued her first public comments on the matter Thursday, saying the diplomat forced her to work long hours and refused her requests to return to India. The indictment accuses Khobragade of submitting a false contract stating that she would pay Richard $9.50 an hour in accordance with the New York minimum wage, but in fact paid her a fraction of that.
“I never thought that things would get so bad here, that I would work so much that I did not have time to sleep or eat or have time to myself,” Richard said in a statement released by Safe Horizon, an anti-human-trafficking group in New York, which is representing her in the case against Khobragade.
“I would like to tell other domestic workers who are suffering as I did -- you have rights and do not let anyone exploit you.”
Khobragade’s father characterized her as a doting mother whose daughters would join her in India after a few months, along with her husband, a U.S. citizen. He shrugged off the indictment against her in New York, saying she could continue her diplomatic career elsewhere.
“America is not the only country where people can go,” he said. “There are more civilized countries.”
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