Indian diplomat leaves U.S. amid grand jury indictment for visa fraud
An Indian diplomat, whose arrest in New York sparked a bitter row, left the United States Thursday as she was hit with charges over treatment of her servant, prosecutors said.
In a statement to a court, federal prosecutors unveiled that a grand jury had filed two counts of visa fraud and making false statements against diplomat Devyani Khobragade but said that she would not be present for trial.
“We understand that the defendant was very recently accorded diplomatic immunity status, and that she departed the United States today,” Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the southern district of New York, told the judge.
Indian officials did not immediately comment but have previously said that Khobragade, the deputy consul general in New York, was switching her accreditation to the United Nations which would allow her greater immunity.
Khobragade’s arrest on December 12 spurred outrage in India, especially when it was revealed that she was strip-searched. The incident sent once warming relations between the world’s two largest democracies into freefall.
India said that the arrest breached norms and retaliated by removing security barriers outside the US embassy first placed after the September 11, 2001 attacks. India also cut back perks for US diplomats, and US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz postponed a visit due next week to India.
In an indictment, the grand jury said Khobragade had a contract to pay her Indian servant 30,000 rupees ($573) a month — in line with wages in India, but well below the US minimum wage.
The indictment said Khobragade, on a temporary work visa form for the servant, listed a monthly pay of $4,500. The indictment said the figure “did not match any actual income” — not that of the servant or that of Khobragade, after some media reports indicated that prosecutors may have mistakenly looked at the diplomat’s salary.
“Knowing that if the US authorities were told the truth about the actual terms of her employment agreement with the victim, Khobragade would not have been able to obtain a visa for the victim, Khobragade decided to make false statements to the US authorities,” the indictment said.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]