Devyani Khobragade’s claim of immunity challenged by US

New York, Feb 1: Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade does not enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution on charges of visa fraud and making false statements, the US State Department has said in papers submitted before a court.

The declaration, dated January 29 and signed by Attorney- Advisor in the Office of the Legal Advisor of the Department of State Stephen Kerr, was submitted in court yesterday by Manhattan’s federal prosecutor India-born Preet Bharara in support of his memorandum opposing 39-year-old Khobragade’s motion to dismiss the indictment against her.

It concludes that federal authorities were not wrong in arresting and detaining Khobragade on visa fraud charges on December 12 last year since she did not have full diplomatic immunity in her capacity as India’s Deputy Consul General.

“The Department of State concludes that Dr Khobragade did not enjoy immunity from arrest or detention at the time of her arrest in this case, and she does not?presently enjoy immunity from prosecution for the crimes charged in the indictment,” the State Department declaration said.

The declaration is part of eight supporting documents that Bharara has submitted in court as proof that Khobragade is not immune from prosecution and that the indictment against her should not be dismissed.

Bharara’s motion is in response to a request made by Khobragade’s lawyer Daniel Arshack on January 14 that asked the court to dismiss the indictment and terminate any “open” arrest warrants or requests for her extradition.

Arshack argued that Khobragade was “cloaked” in diplomatic immunity and cannot face prosecution in the US.

Bharara said the State Department, “whose views must be given great weight”, has “unequivocally concluded” that Khobragade did not employ her domestic worker Sangeeta Richard in her capacity as Deputy Consul General and so does not enjoy immunity from prosecution for the “crimes” for which she was arrested in December.

The State Department also determined that her immunity in connection with her short-lived stint at the Indian mission to the UN from January 8 to January 9 before she was asked to leave the US is no bar to prosecution.”

A 1999-batch IFS officer, Khobragade was arrested on visa fraud charges, 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.

She was indicted on visa fraud and making false statements by a US grand jury. She returned to India after she was asked to leave the US by the State Department.

(PTI)