India says US must drop case against diplomat to defuse row

Published: December 19, 2013
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A member of the Student Federation of India (SFI) holds up a poster while shouting slogans during a protest outside the U.S. consulate office in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad December 19, 2013.
PHOTO: REUTERS

A member of the Student Federation of India (SFI) holds up a poster while shouting slogans during a protest outside the U.S. consulate office in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad December 19, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI: India urged the United States to withdraw a visa fraud case against one of its diplomats in New York on Thursday, suggesting that Secretary of State John Kerry’s expression of regret over her treatment in custody was not enough.

The arrest of Devyani Khobragade on charges of underpaying her nanny and her subsequent strip-search has caused a furore in India and put an unexpected strain on US-Indian relations.

It has also provoked anger over the treatment of Indians abroad and it has fed into a pre-election ferment, with political parties of all colours voicing patriotic outrage.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters that New Delhi was not convinced there was a case against Khobragade, who he said had been treated like a common criminal.

“We have asked for an explanation for what has happened … and why, and we have asked for the cases to be dropped and withdrawn immediately,” Khurshid told reporters.

Khobragade was released on bail of $250,000 after giving up her passport and pleading not guilty to charges of visa fraud and making false statements about how much she paid the housekeeper, an Indian national. She faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted on both counts.

The US Justice Department confirmed that Khobragade was strip-searched after her arrest. A senior Indian government source has also said the interrogation included a cavity search.

“The worst that can be said about the lady who was involved … is that she did not comply with the amount that was supposed to be paid under law,” Khurshid said. “I don’t think that justifies treating her like a common criminal.”

Washington said on Wednesday that US Secretary of State John Kerry had called Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon to express regret about the case and his concern that it should not hurt the two countries’ relationship.

But in New Delhi, government leaders suggested Kerry had not gone far enough to assuage Indian sensitivities.

“They should clearly apologise and accept they have made a mistake. Only then will we be satisfied,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said. “At a minimum, they must unilaterally withdraw all charges against Devyani and tender an apology.”

In response to Khobragade’s treatment, India has withdrawn some privileges given to US diplomats and removed security barriers at the US embassy in New Delhi.

Khurshid said he expected to speak to Kerry on Thursday.

Manhattan Attorney Preet Bharara on Wednesday defended the treatment of the diplomat, asked why there was less sympathy for the nanny and said it was standard practice for any defendant to undergo a full search, “rich or poor, American or not”.

India’s foreign ministry lambasted Bharara’s remarks.

“The action taken against her was not in keeping with the Vienna Convention,” spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said. “There were no courtesies in the treatment that was meted out to the diplomat, under the normal definition of that word in the English language.”

The Indian Embassy in Washington, in a written statement, accused the housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard, of blackmail in demanding that she be allowed to change her passport and visa status to work elsewhere.

It also called on US authorities to arrest Richard for stealing cash, a mobile phone and documents from Khobragade.

Bharara, in his statement, said Richard’s family had been brought to the United States after legal efforts had begun in India “to silence her, and attempts were made to compel her to return to India”.

Akbaruddin said: “It needs to be asked what right a foreign government has to ‘evacuate’ Indian citizens from India while cases are pending against them in the Indian legal system.”

In a police report filed by the diplomat, the nanny told Khobragade in June that she felt “overburdened” by her work and wanted to be free to leave the house between 7 pm and 7 am.

Khobragade responded that Richard had come to the United States on an official passport and “perhaps government rules do not permit her to stay beyond the limit of consulate premises”, according to police and court documents seen by Reuters.

The report alleged that Richard had committed crimes under Indian law by making a “false promise” in order to enter the United States and was duty-bound to surrender her passport the moment she stopped working as a domestic servant for Khobragade.

A court order issued a non-bailable arrest warrant for Richard, and – according to foreign minister Khurshid – her Indian passport has been revoked.

“Unless she takes asylum she will have to come back, she doesn’t have a valid passport,” he said.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Azi
    Dec 19, 2013 - 9:05PM

    “Humiliate” Indians, now thats funny. One needs to have respect to be humiliated. Outside world only sees Indians as IT guys, rapists, and cheap labor.

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  • someone
    Dec 19, 2013 - 9:39PM

    @Azi:
    So you are saying IT guys are not respected or a person working as a manual labor does not hold any respect. Well nothing unexpected from a low life like you which are dime a dozen in your country.

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  • shahid
    Dec 19, 2013 - 9:59PM

    Indian anger and reaction is fully justified. Cavity search for a woman is the worst treatment offered to any one. giving cavity search for every one wheather Us citizen or not and ignoring the type of chages against the accused shows worst form of human right violation and total diregard for human decency by US law enforcing agencies. I wonder how Us Public tolerates it.

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  • Adi
    Dec 19, 2013 - 10:09PM

    @Azi:

    For a country whose main food source is US aid biscuits that is quite a statement to make.

    You get:

    Drone strikes from America
    Aid refusal and liability threats from Iran
    Death by hanging from Bangladesh
    Cricket boycott from Sri Lanka
    Suicide bombed by Afghanistan
    Visa denials and strip searches for ALL your people at ALL airports on planet earth

    And yet you have the cheek to speak

    India took away ALL special privilages from US diplomats.

    Even free parking. Next time the US ambassador will pay 20 rs to park his damn car like the rest of us.

    What could pakistan do to Raymond Davies?

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  • Spock
    Dec 19, 2013 - 10:14PM

    @Azi:
    Look who is talking?? Let me know when drones stop violating your respect so we can talk about honor.

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  • caesar
    Dec 19, 2013 - 10:49PM

    @Azi:
    Says the citizen of a beggar state! thats funny

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  • zafar
    Dec 19, 2013 - 11:25PM

    why were her cavities searched?

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  • Yan
    Dec 20, 2013 - 1:17AM

    Azi
    U have been screwed enough to say more.Drones,24 soldiers killed in Salala, Osama killing,even Iran attacks u, Afghanistan hates u .what a respect for sovereign country,Oh sorry 2 inform u ur aid will be blocked if u talk anything with US.

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  • Adi
    Dec 20, 2013 - 1:22AM

    @Zafar

    Cavity search is a US standard operational procedure in which a record is made of the person’s fillings (if any) or piercings. This is done to determine partially if the person will set off metal detectors if she/he moves. A identification category is then assigned.

    Strip search is carried out to remove items such as keys or lighters which may be used by fellow inmates to cause injury or harm during confinement.

    Both are carried by officers of the law in an enclosed setting. In case of females female officers are required by law to carry out the procedure.

    Now back to Mr. Raymond Davies and Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. Any comments?

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  • B
    Dec 20, 2013 - 3:41AM

    Because The US Marshalls mistook her to be a Pakistani.

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  • MK
    Dec 20, 2013 - 5:18AM

    Strip/Cavity search is apparently a standard procedure when sending someone to jail. Diplomat claimed to be paying her maid 4500 a month, that works out to 54000 annual salary. For a house maid, that does sound too much. Pretty sure there were false statements/declarations made in the process.

    Indians are upset that she was not given a free pass, because of her diplomatic status. Lets see what the investigation reveals. But I do not see any sympathy for the maid who is also a woman and an Indian, and was allegedly mistreated by a fellow Indian in US.

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  • logic needed
    Dec 20, 2013 - 4:31PM

    Sunita Richards gets a job at Rs. 30,000/= per month to work in USA as maid / nanny with Indian Diplomat Devyani Khobragade. Thjis salary is 5 to 10 times what a maid / nanny would earn in Delhi or Mumbai. All expenses are paid what she gets is net savings. She is very happy and signed the contract willingly, no one forced her to go to USA.

    (Unlike some one would say she is exploited, by that standards a class action suite should be taken against all US Multinationals for paying even less than $3 per hour to their call center employees in India – got the point?)

    Six months later she wants to make extra bucks by working part time but her Visa status doesn’t permit. She absconds, leaves the house without telling leaving 3 and 6 years daughter which were under her care.

    Her passport is diplomatic and visa sponsored by Indian Diplomat. If she is not happy with the work, she can happily go back to India, give back her diplomatic passport, apply a new passport and try to get a Visa on her own qualifications and come back to USA and work. She knows she has no qualifications that would allow her to work in USA and she doesn’t want to go back.

    She goes to an immigration lawyer. The lawyer finds a loop hole and contacts Indian Diplomat and threatens to sue her unless she agree to their conditions. Not succeeding there, lawyer files a law suite alleging exploitation (exploited by receiving 10 times the salary !! Millions women will gladly accept this job if they recive Rs. 30,000/= a month.) and Visa Fraud (This can be Valid.)

    Americans cries exploitation take a hasty / irrational action and soon we have government of two of the most important nations at loggerhead with each other fighting …

    All these because Ms. Sunita Richards wants to migrate to the USA ….

    Brilliant !!!!

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  • JSM
    Dec 20, 2013 - 6:55PM

    I am curious. What would have been the US action if it was Chinese diplomat.

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  • Vikram Rao
    Jan 10, 2014 - 7:42AM

    Funny, Now that Devyani is on an Air India jet going home, I’m positive of how the.world.sees us. India dug in its heels and did not relent. This is not over for America as American diplomats still have to remain in India and will be treated as average people now. India showed it’s brass balls, something that Pakistan does not have. Pakistan is like you cannot differentiate between micro chip and potato chip.

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