US prosecutors indict Indian diplomat Khobragade again

Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade leaves with her father Uttam Khobragade (left) from the Maharashtra Sadan state guesthouse to meet India's Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid in New Delhi in January. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade leaves with her father Uttam Khobragade (left) from the Maharashtra Sadan state guesthouse to meet India's Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid in New Delhi in January. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) – A grand jury in New York has returned a new indictment against Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade for visa fraud, two days after a US judge dismissed a similar indictment because she had diplomatic immunity.

Dr Khobragade’s arrest last December and a subsequent strip search drew outrage in India, causing a major diplomatic rift between the United States and India.

The row ended on Jan. 9 after the United States granted her immunity and then essentially had her expelled from the country in a flurry of diplomatic maneuvers, the same day she was indicted for the first time.

Dr Khobragade’s lawyer, Daniel Arshack, did not immediately comment on the new indictment, which effectively returns the case to where it was before Wednesday’s dismissal.

US District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled on Wednesday that Dr Khobragade, who was India’s deputy consul-general in New York, had diplomatic immunity when she sought on Jan. 9 to dismiss the indictment, and thus could not be prosecuted for alleged underpayment of her nanny.

A spokesman for Preet Bharara, the US Attorney in Manhattan, said at the time that the ruling did not bar prosecutors from seeking a new indictment based on the same charges, now that she has left the country.

In Friday’s move, the grand jury indicted Dr Khobragade for visa fraud and making false statements. Prosecutors have accused her of forcing Sangeeta Richard, her housekeeper and nanny, to work 100-hour weeks at a salary of just over US$1 (S$1.26) an hour, far below the legal minimum US wage of US$7.25 an hour.

With Dr Khobragade in India, the new indictment does not appear to have any immediate practical consequences.

Mr Bharara’s office did not immediately comment.

A State Department spokeswoman said earlier this week that the agency’s position was that Dr Khobragade had full immunity from prosecution only for a single day in January and no longer enjoyed protection from prosecution once she left the country.

The dispute over Khobragade’s arrest set off reprisals against US diplomats and the removal of some security barriers near the US embassy in India.

It also led to the postponement of trips by US officials and business executives to India, imperiling US efforts to strengthen ties between the two countries.

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