Envoy regrets the ‘circumstances’ of Devyani Khobragade’s arrest,US won’t drop case

The diplomat was released on a USD 250,000 bond after being charged with visa fraud.

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi | Published: January 1, 2014 11:36 pm

In her first public statement in the two-week-old India-US spat over the treatment of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York,the US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell Tuesday said she regretted the circumstances of Khobragade’s arrest even as officials in America indicated charges against the IFS officer would not be withdrawn.

Powell’s statement,which was weaved into her new year’s message,was seen as an attempt to assuage India’s concerns as the furore over the alleged mistreatment of Khobragade has soured relations.

New Delhi responded by saying it would communicate with Washington through the designated channel,the State Department in this case,and that it remained serious about pursuing misuse of diplomatic privileges by US diplomats in India.

“I join Secretary Kerry in expressing our regret for the circumstances of the consular officer’s arrest,but we believe that we can look forward to continuing to expand our bilateral relations,” Powell said in her message,referring to a similar expression of regret by Secretary of State John Kerry in the days after the row erupted.

Referring to various “impressive developments” between India and the US in a wide-range of areas,she said this “forward movement has been jolted by very different reactions to issues involving one of your consular officers and her domestic worker”.

Senior US officials in New York had late on Monday rejected India’s contention that salary details in the visa application of Khobragade’s domestic help had been misconstrued and asserted there is “no goof up” and that the case against her is on a firm footing.

The officials said the visa fraud charges against Khobragade will not be dropped as “the strength of the fraud in the case is very strong”.

“The case will be there against her,it will not be dropped. The charges will remain,” the sources said,adding that if the 39-year-old diplomat gets full diplomatic immunity,she can travel outside the country.

However,if she were to return to the US later on a visit and if she does not have the immunity then,she could face arrest and be prosecuted.

Responding to these reports from the US,MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said there were many voices in a “pluralistic democracy” but New Delhi will respond to the State Department.

He said the State Department had conveyed that a process was on to look into the entire arrest incident and India was awaiting an “authorised response”.

India,he said,would continue to “seriously” pursue any misuse of diplomatic privileges by US diplomats in India. “We are processing a lot of information and a variety of thoughts and make no mistake,we are serious about processing and pursuing this matter,” Akbaruddin said.

He added that the ministry was also investigating “leads” it has got on what he said was the misuse of diplomatic privilege in signing-off the tax exemption for the air ticket purchased to “evacuate” the family of Khobragade’s maid Sangeeta Richard from Delhi to New York. — With PTI inputs

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