special to the tribune
Ashish Kumar Sen in washington dc
The US government has no intention of dropping charges against Indian diplomat against Deputy Consul General in New York Devyani Khobragade accused of lying on a US visa application for her maid, whom she allegedly grossly underpaid and overworked.
Marie Harf, State Department’s deputy spokeswoman, also said that in the event that Devyani Khobragade’s re-accreditation to the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations is approved, full diplomatic immunity would only apply from the day on which she is officially confirmed to her new post and not be retroactive.
Harf said any suggestion that the US is considering dropping the charges against Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, are not true.
Any suggestion that the State Department will press Preet Bharara, the Indian-American US attorney for the Southern District of New York, to drop the charges are also not true, she said. The complaint against Khobragade was filed by Mark J Smith, a special agent with the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, in the court of Debra Freeman, US Magistrate Judge in the Southern District of New York. The judge issued the warrant for Khobragade’s arrest.
Withdrawing the complaint is “not something that’s even being considered,” Harf told reporters at the State Department’s daily briefing on Thursday. “We take these allegations very seriously. We’re not in any way walking back from those allegations or the charges. Again, this is really a law enforcement issue.” Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963, Khobragade as a consular officer, does not enjoy full diplomatic immunity and is only protected from arrest in the case of acts related to her official work.
The State Department’s handbook on “Diplomatic and Consular Immunity” states: “It should be emphasised that even at its highest level, diplomatic immunity does not exempt diplomatic officers from the obligation of conforming with national and local laws and regulations. Diplomatic immunity is not intended to serve as a licence for persons to flout the law and purposely avoid liability for their actions.”
Bharara, who has filed the charges against Khobragade, issued a stern statement on Wednesday in which he noted that Khobragade had not only allegedly broken US law, she had forced her maid, Sangeeta Richard, and the maid’s spouse to be a part of her scheme to lie to US government officials.
The government of India has sought to provide Khobragade full diplomatic cover by transferring her to the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York. However, such a transfer would have to be approved by the State Department because the UN is located in the US.
Officials at the UN and the State Department say they have not received any official request for Khobragade’s re-accreditation. And Harf said diplomatic immunity would not be retroactive.
India hopeful of solution
New Delhi, December 20
As the stalemate continued for the eighth day, New Delhi was angry over US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf’s statement that the Indian diplomat would have to face ‘very serious’ allegation and that the immunity sought for her after her transfer to the Permanent Mission of India (MPI) to the UN was ‘not retroactive’.
Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath reiterated that the US must tender an unconditional apology for the treatment meted out to Devyani. “The US has to understand that the world has changed, times have changed and India has changed,” he told reporters here. The BJP also demanded an apology from the US over the manner in which the Indian diplomat was treated.
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh was, however, unsparing in her attack on the US authorities. “Diplomats are expected to be treated in a certain way. This is no way to treat one of our diplomats. We expect our diplomats to be given the same basic courtesies that we have shown to US diplomats and those of other countries,” she said on the sidelines of a function this evening.
Khurshid was guarded in his comments. Terming as ‘valuable’ the ties between the two nations, he said India was conscious of this while dealing with the ‘hurtful and unacceptable’ treatment the diplomat had to undergo when she was arrested.
Meanwhile, sources wondered why the US was adopting different yardsticks in the case of an Indian diplomat while ignoring visa fraud allegations against diplomats from other countries. In this connection, they referred to the recent incident in which in which nearly 50 current and former Russian diplomats and their family members were charged with participating in a scheme to get health benefits intended for poor by lying about their income. The same US Attorney Preet Bharara, the man behind Devyani’s controversial arrest, appeared soft in this particular case.
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