Indian diplomat indicted on fraud charges in US

Thursday 09 January 2014 23.26
The case has led to angry protests in India
The case has led to angry protests in India

The Indian diplomat whose arrest and strip-searching in New York caused a major rift between India and the United States was indicted for visa fraud today.

The US government immediately asked her to leave the country.

A US government official said the US accepted a request by India to accredit the diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, at the United Nations and then asked New Delhi to waive the diplomatic immunity that status conferred.

India denied the request, leading the US to ask for her departure, the official said.

In a letter accompanying her indictment today, the prosecutor in the case, US Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan, initially said Ms Khobragade had left the country.             

Shortly afterwards, a spokesman for Mr Bharara said in a statement that she had not left.

A lawyer for Ms Khobragade confirmed this.

"Despite Preet Bharara's reports to the contrary, Devyani Khobragade has not left the country," Daniel Arshack, her lawyer, said in a statement.

"She is at home with her children."

There was no immediate comment from the Indian embassy in Washington or its mission to the United Nations.

Ms Khobragade, who was deputy consul-general in New York, was arrested 12 December and charged with one count of visa fraud and another of making false statements about how much she paid her housekeeper.

Her arrest set off protests in India amid disclosures that she was strip searched on the day of her arrest.

It also soured the broader US-India bilateral relationship, leading to the postponement of two visits to India by senior US officials and another by a US business delegation.

Furious at Ms Kobragade's treatment, India has curtailed privileges offered to US diplomats and ordered the US Embassy to close a club for expatriate Americans in New Delhi.

The arresting authority, the US Marshals Service, characterised the strip search as a routine procedure imposed on any new arrestee.

Ms Khobragade's departure would remove the focus of current friction between India and the US, but it is unclear how long it will take the anger to subside in the run up to national elections in India in May.

The case has exposed underlying problems in a bilateral relationship that has failed to live up to its billing by President Barack Obama in 2010 as "a defining partnership for the 21st Century"

Critics accuse Mr Obama of failing to pay sufficient attention to ties with a country viewed as a key strategic counterbalance to China and as an engine to boost the US economy, while US hopes of building a more robust business relationship with India have run into bureaucratic hurdles.