India on Thursday welcomed a US district court’s dismissal of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade’s indictment in a visa fraud case and hoped that Manhattan attorney Preet Bharara would refrain from filing fresh charges as indicated by his office. The March 12 order came on a petition filed by Khobragade’s lawyer after she left her family behind and returned to India following an elaborate legal exercise undertaken by both sides to defuse the crisis which threatened bilateral ties.
Khobragade, then posted as deputy counsel general in New York, was arrested on December 12 and strip-searched in custody on charges of visa fraud and not paying minimum wages to her domestic worker, Sangeeta Richard, who travelled with her from India. The charges were filed by Bharara, the high-profile Manhattan attorney.
In order to provide her blanket immunity, India had to transfer Khobragade to the Indian mission to the UN. Washington told her to leave the country when New Delhi refused to waive off the immunity. Southern New York district court judge Shira Scheindlin said in her order that Khobragade’s appointment as counselor to the permanent mission of India gave her broad immunity from the charges filed a day later. She added that Khobragade’s conditions of bail are terminated and her bond exonerated.
But, the US judge seemed to also leave a small window open for the prosecutors. Scheindlin observed that fresh charges could be brought against Khobragade if “the acts charged in the Indictment were not performed in the exercise of official functions.” In New York, Bharara’s office said that they “intend to proceed accordingly”.
Welcoming the ruling, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said filing of new charges will certainly not be appreciated and will have an impact on ties, which are inching towards normalcy. Khobragade’s American lawyer Daniel Arshack said any decision to re-indict her would be viewed as “an aggressive act”.
Devyani is currently posted at the MEA headquarters as director in the Development Partnership Administration division.