In a diplomatic response reminiscent of India’s confrontations with Pakistan, the external affairs ministry Friday expelled a senior US diplomat posted in New Delhi, hours after Washington asked Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade to leave the US following her indictment on visa fraud charges.
The consular rank officer, who was not named but is learnt to be regional security officer Wayne May, was allegedly closely involved in the diplomatic fracas that has seen India-US relations plumb the depths in a matter of weeks.
The US diplomat was asked to leave India within a little over 48 hours, even as Khobragade, who is facing criminal charges in the US for reneging on her promise to pay a certain wage to her domestic help Sangeeta Richard, was on a flight to New Delhi.
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Responding to May’s expulsion, Washington said it “deeply regretted” that India felt it necessary to expel an American diplomat after Khobragade was asked to leave the country. At the same time, it said it hoped the incident will now come to closure and that New Delhi will help improve ties.
The Indian diplomat left New York Friday after being indicted for visa fraud as well as for making false statements. However, the trial did not begin as she had been granted full diplomatic immunity following her accreditation to the Permanent Indian Mission in the UN and that was accepted by the US State Department.
Following her indictment, the State Department had asked India to waive the immunity so that the case could go for trial. When India refused, the State Department asked India to withdraw the diplomat.
While Khobragade has been able to return on a fresh passport with a G1 visa – her original passport was confiscated by court and she was out on bail – the charges against her in the US remain and she will face trial if she returns on a normal passport or without diplomatic immunity.
US attorney Preet Bharara made it clear the charges will remain pending until “she can be brought to court to face the charges, either through a waiver of immunity of the defendant’s return to the US in a non-immune status”.
In what it described as “reciprocal action”, New Delhi asked Washington to withdraw its consular level diplomat of the same rank as Khobragade. The expulsion, sources said, was ordered as the Indian side had “reasons to believe the diplomat is closely involved in the processes relating to the case and the subsequent unilateral action by the US”.
Khobragade landed in Delhi late on Friday evening and was received at the airport by her family, including her retired IAS officer-father Uttam Khobragade, and MEA officials.
“She is not depressed, she is fine,” Uttam Khobragade told PTI after meeting his daughter.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said a US official accredited to the mission in India will be leaving post at the request of the government of India, PTI reported.
“We expect and hope that this will now come to closure, and the Indians will now take significant steps with us to improve our relationship and return it to a more constructive place,” she said.