Devyani Khobragade fallout: India expels senior US diplomat

New Delhi, Jan 10: India on Friday expelled senior American diplomat within hours of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade being asked to leave the US after her indictment in a visa fraud case for which she was arrested nearly a month ago, triggering strong reaction from the government here.

The unnamed Director-rank American diplomat based here was given "a little more than 48 hours" to leave India even as Khobragade was on her way home from New York, where the US government finally approved her accreditation to the UN which gave her full diplomatic immunity as against partial immunity at the time of her arrest on December 12 when she was Deputy Consul General there.

India's tit-for-tat action is only the second instance of a US diplomat being expelled, the first instance being expulsion of George Griffin, then political Counsellor, 33 years ago. That was in retaliation against similar action being taken by the US against Prabhakar Menon, an Indian diplomat.

India's tit-for-tat action is 2nd instance of a US diplomat being expelled.

Refraining from using the term "expulsion", official sources said here that the US Embassy has been asked to "withdraw" one of its diplomats of similar rank as that of Khobragade, which the government "have reasons to believe, is closely involved in the processes relating to this case and subsequent unilateral action by the US."

However, the sources did not divulge the name of the American diplomat. The diplomat was understood to be closely involved in the "evacuation" of the family of Khobragade's absconding maid Sangeeta Richard.

Earlier today in New York, Khobragade was indicted for visa fraud and making false statements by a grand jury which held that the charges against her will remain with main prosecutor Preet Bharara saying, "There will not need to be an arraignment on the indictment scheduled at this time.

We understand that the defendant was very recently accorded diplomatic immunity status. "Therefore, 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....". It is understood that it was always the effort of the government to bring back Khobragade, who had surrendered her passport after the arrest and was out on a bail of USD 250,000, through G-1 visa route which would have given her full immunity.

39-year-old Khobragade, a 1999-batch IFS officer, had not agreed to any "plea bargain which would have directly or indirectly be the acceptance of the guilt in any form", official sources said. Apart from trying a "retrospective immunity" to resolve the issue, Indian government also tried legal options but could not achieve much as the prosecution made it clear that it will go ahead with the January 13 deadline for indictment in the case. It is also understood that the role of the American diplomat, whose withdrawal has been asked by the India, led to the court case in the US against Khobragade.

Meanwhile, it is believed that any decision on the restoration of the extra privileges of the US diplomats which have been withdrawn to enforce "strict reciprocity" will be taken after considering all "inputs" including that from Khobragade. Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of India to the UN in New York, Khobragade was accorded on 8th January 2014 the privileges and immunities of a diplomatic envoy under the terms of Section 15 of the Headquarters Agreement between the United Nations and the United States.

At the same time, the US Government requested the Government of India to waive the immunity of Khobragade. On January 9, India declined to do so and transferred her to the Ministry headquarters here, after which the US asked the Indian diplomat to leave. At the time of her departure for India, Khobragade reiterated her innocence on charges filed against her and also affirmed her determination to ensure that the episode would not leave a lasting impact on her family, in particular, her children, who are still in the US.

Arrested on December 12, the diplomat was strip-searched and held with criminals, triggering a row between the two sides with India retaliating by downgrading privileges of certain category of US diplomats among other steps.


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