"She is innocent... It is not the illegality that she (Khobragade) is accused of, but the illegality she refused to oblige," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told Parliament about Khobragade, who was arrested last week on visa fraud charges as she was dropping her daughter to school and released on a USD 250,000 bond only after pleading not guilty in court.
A 1999-batch IFS officer, Khobragade was put through both strip and cavity searches, procedures normally used for criminals, evoking a sharp reaction from India which initiated a slew of steps to downgrade the privileges enjoyed by the US diplomats and their families including withdrawing airport passes and stopping import clearances.
Narrating the sequence of events that began in June-July this year, Khurshid said the maid servant disappeared and a case was lodged with New York Police Department but no action was taken.
"The Deputy Consul General (later) received a phone call from a lawyer who refused to identify himself and offered to settle the matter that would result in grant of permanent citizenship to her and a huge compensation. It became clear that this was a conspiracy and some people trapped her," he said, adding the treatment meted out to Khobragade had "not happened out of blue" and there is a "history" behind it.
It became clear that this was a conspiracy and some people trapped her
Significantly, the family of the maid, Sangeeta Richards, was granted visa by the US embassy despite India being in touch with Americans since her disappearance and cancellation of her official passport in June.
The family - Sangeeta's husband Philip and two children- left for New York on December 10, just two days before Khobragade was arrested. Given the "odd" timing of the departure of the family of the maid and arrest of Indian diplomat, there is a feeling that there were three rings of "charade" as Americans facilitated a visa fraud even after being told by India that there was a risk of illegal immigration by Sangeeta and her family.
There is also resentment among officials here who feel that the US department gave "dead wrong" information about Indian mission being informed in writing in September of allegations of abuse made by an Indian national against Khobragade and that they were in touch with India on the issue. Meanwhile, Khobragade was yesterday transferred to India's Permanent Mission to UN to give her fuller diplomatic immunity.