Devyani Khobragade row: US refuses to drop charges

Devyani Khobragade attends a Rutgers University event at India's Consulate General in New York, June 19, 2013 Devyani Khobragade is the deputy consul general of India in New York

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The US will not drop charges against Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, the state department has said after her arrest last week led to a huge diplomatic row.

Ms Khobragade was arrested in New York on suspicion of visa fraud and making false statements, after being accused of underpaying her Indian maid.

She has denied all the charges and was later released on bail.

India has demanded an apology from the US over her alleged "humiliation".

Ms Khobragade was handcuffed and strip-searched last Thursday after a complaint from her maid, Sangeeta Richard. She has in turn accused Ms Richard of theft and attempting to blackmail her.

The story so far...

  • 23 June: Maid Sangeeta Richard goes missing. Ms Khobragade informs Office of the Foreign Missions and New York police
  • 8 July: India revokes Ms Richard's passport, says she's staying in the US illegally; Ms Khobragade accuses her of theft and attempt to blackmail
  • 4 September: US State Department asks Indian embassy to inquire into Ms Richard's allegations disputing her terms of employment
  • 8 October: Indian embassy writes to state department explaining facts of the case and accusing Ms Richard of "seeking to subvert both Indian and US laws"
  • 19 November: A Delhi court issues warrant for arrest of Ms Richard
  • 6 December: India forwards the warrant to the US embassy in Delhi and the state department
  • 10 December: Ms Richard's husband and children fly to the US
  • 12 December: Ms Khobragade arrested in New York, produced in court and released on a $250,000 bond

US Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed his "regret" over the incident, but a government minister on Thursday said that was not enough and that the US must apologise and admit it had made a mistake.

Delhi has ordered a series of reprisals against the US. Security barricades around the US embassy in the city were removed and a visiting US delegation was snubbed by senior Indian politicians and officials.

'Playing games'

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf answered in the negative when asked if Ms Khobragade would go "scot free" and the US courts would be asked to drop the charges against her.

"We take these allegations very seriously. We're not in any way walking back from those allegations or the charges," she said adding that this was "really a law enforcement issue".

Ms Harf said the US informed every country annually about "obligations they have for their staffs when they bring them to the US".

"We make those obligations very clear and we take any allegations that they haven't done so very seriously," she added.

Protesters burn an effigy of US President Barack Obama in the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar December 19, 2013 Anger has been rising in India against the alleged ill-treatment of the diplomat

On Friday morning, India again insisted that the US must apologise as the action taken against Ms Khobragade was "unacceptable".

"The US is playing games with India. But America must understand that the world has changed, times have changed and India has changed," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told reporters.

On Wednesday, angry MPs from several Indian parties called on the government to take tough action against the US and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described Ms Khobragade's treatment as "deplorable".

What is diplomatic immunity?

  • A form of legal immunity that ensures diplomats are exempt from prosecution under the host country's laws
  • Agreed as international law in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961)
  • Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963) a consul is afforded a variation of diplomatic immunity called consular immunity
  • It guarantees immunity from the host country's laws only with respect to acts related to consular duties

But US prosecutor Preet Bharara said in a statement that Ms Khobragade "was accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants... are accorded".

According to documents filed in a New York court, Ms Khobragade wrote on a visa application that the maid would be paid $4,500 (£2,746) a month.

But investigators said she instead paid only $573 per month - less than the New York state minimum wage.

If found guilty, Ms Khobragade faces a maximum sentence of 10 years for visa fraud and five years for making false statements.

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