New Delhi, Jan 11- Senior Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who was indicted for visa fraud and making false statements by a grand jury in the US, returned India on Friday night amidst an emotional reunion with her family.
She thanked India for support. The United Airlines flight carrying Khobragade landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport at around 9.40 pm and she came out of the terminal at 10.40 pm, her father Uttam Khobragade said.
“She is not depressed. She is fine”, Devyani’s father told PTI as he received his 39-year-old daughter at the airport along with officials of External Affairs Ministry.
Uttam Khobragade said he was “grateful to everyone for supporting her daughter”.
A federal grand grand jury in Manhattan held that the charges against Devyani Khboragade, former Indian Deputy Consul General in New York, will remain and she will have to face trial if she returns to the US without diplomatic immunity, US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a letter to District Judge Shira Scheindlin.
The arrest of Khobragade, mother of two, and her subsequent strip-search in New York has sparked an outrage in India.
A 1999-batch IFS officer, Khobragade, was arrested on December 12 on charges of making false declarations in a visa application for her maid. She was released on a USD 250,000 bond.
The diplomat was 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.
India asks US embassy in New Delhi to withdraw a diplomat
India on Friday ordered the United States to withdraw one of its diplomats from New Delhi, as the Indian consul at the centre of the row between the two countries flew home after being indicted in New York for visa fraud.
Devyani Khobragade, 39, who was India’s deputy consul-general in New York, was arrested on December 12 and indicted on Thursday before being effectively expelled from the country. Her arrest set off a furore in India amid disclosures that she was handcuffed and strip-searched.
The month-long row has soured the broader US-India bilateral relationship, leading to reprisals against American diplomats in New Delhi and the postponement of visits to India by senior US officials and another by a US business delegation.
The deal bringing Khobragade home to India had been expected to help mend the rift, but there was no sign, in the short term at least, that India was ready to forgive and forget.
“We called the US mission to withdraw an officer of similar rank of Devyani as reciprocal action,” an Indian official who has knowledge of the decision told reporters.
The official said the government believed the US diplomat was involved “in processes relating to” the Khobragade case. The official did not give more details.
Tit-for-tat withdrawals of embassy staff are common when countries become locked in diplomatic disputes. The US embassy in Delhi and India’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the move.
Incensed by the treatment of Khobragade, India removed some security barriers from near the US embassy and reduced the number of embassy staff with diplomatic immunity. On Wednesday, it ordered the embassy to close a club frequented by American expatriates and other foreign residents.
During the crisis, both New Delhi and Washington repeatedly stressed the importance of their bilateral partnership, which includes $100 billion of annual trade. But the Khobragade case dragged on for almost a month before Thursday’s breakthrough.
In New York, a federal grand jury indicted Khobragade for visa fraud and lying about how much she paid her housekeeper, but she was allowed to leave after she was transferred to India’s U.N. mission and granted a higher level of diplomatic immunity.
Many Indians felt the case was an example of the United States taking its friendship with India for granted and support was strong for the government’s tough stand. Middle-class Indians sympathized more with Khobragade than with her housekeeper, who was allegedly overworked and underpaid.
Denies All Charges
The indictment accused Khobragade of coaching the maid, Sangeeta Richard, to mislead U.S. officials, and of confiscating her passport and making her work 100-hour, seven-day weeks.
Khobragade denies all charges and has been backed by the Indian government. Khobragade’s lawyer Daniel Arshack said on Thursday she would leave with her head “held high.”
The foreign ministry in New Delhi said in a statement: “At the time of her departure for India, Counsellor Khobragade reiterated her innocence on charges filed against her.
“She also affirmed her determination to ensure that the episode would not leave a lasting impact on her family, in particular, her children, who are still in the United States.”
Her father Uttam Khobragade said she rejected an offer of a plea bargain to resolve the dispute and be allowed to stay in the United States.
If the diplomat had reached a settlement with her housekeeper, the charges against her would have been dropped but she decided against it, he said.
“Devyani said, this amounts to compromising the sovereignty of the country,” Uttam Khobragade said, noting that the dispute with the housekeeper was being dealt with by Indian courts.
Khobragade risks arrest if she return to the United States. Her husband and children, who are US citizens, are expected to follow her to India shortly, her father said.
“Upon her departure a warrant may be issued for her arrest and should she seek to enter the United States she could be arrested,” a U.S. diplomatic note said.
It will take time to dispel the bad feelings built up between New Delhi and Washington. With national elections due in India by May, political parties have seized on the case and labeled it an attack on national sovereignty.
“We’ll focus on one day at a time, today is the day we focus on getting Devyani back,” said India’s foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.
On Friday, American expatriates visiting the American embassy club in Delhi, popular for its swimming pool, hamburgers and beer, disagreed about the merits of the case.
“In my mind, it’s the textbook definition of disproportionate retribution,” said Madhav, 15, referring to India’s retaliatory steps after Khobragade’s arrest. His mother, who likes the club’s gym, salon and restaurants, was more forgiving.
“It’s the principle of reciprocity also right? Of course we are disappointed we won’t be able to use (the club) but we hope it’s going to be resolved,” said the woman, who declined to give her name because of the sensitivity of the diplomat row.