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India, US in diplomatic row over diplomat's arrest

United States,Diplomacy, Sat, 14 Dec 2013 IANS

Washington, Dec 14 (IANS) Amid a diplomatic row over the arrest of a senior Indian diplomat in New York for alleged visa fraud and exploitation of her housekeeper, India has asked the US to resolve the matter at the earliest.

India's chargé d'affaires in Washington, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, raised the issue with senior State Department officials during a meeting Friday, according to a statement by the Indian Embassy.

He reiterated Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh's "strong demarche" to the US Ambassador in New Delhi, Nancy Powell, regarding the treatment meted out to Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York.

Khobragade, 39, was arrested, handcuffed and charged Thursday with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements, which carry maximum sentences of 10 years and five years in prison, respectively.

She was later released on a $250,000 bond after pleading not guilty in a Manhattan court.

Sandhu, the embassy statement said, emphasised that Khobragade "is a diplomat, who is in the US in pursuance of her duties and hence is entitled to the courtesy due to a diplomat in the country of her work."

"She is also a young mother of two small children. Government of India is shocked and appalled at the manner in which she has been humiliated by the US authorities," the statement said.

"It was also conveyed in no uncertain terms that this kind of treatment to one of our diplomats is absolutely unacceptable," the embassy said, and "the US State Department has been called upon to resolve the matter at the earliest."

Earlier, in New Delhi, Sujatha Singh just back from a trip to the US had summoned Powell to convey that treatment meted out to Khobragade was "absolutely unacceptable".

The incident has cast a shadow on bilateral ties days after US signalled its desire to intensify its strategic partnership with India regardless of the upcoming 2014 parliamentary elections in India.

Singh had held talks with top Obama administration officials including US Secretary of State John Kerry and White House Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken besides key lawmakers of both Democratic and Republican parties.

Meanwhile, some legal experts have suggested that diplomatic immunity may not hold in Khobragade's case as non diplomatic acts by consular officers are not covered by the Vienna Conventions.

Unlike diplomats based in the capital, consular officers are not accorded absolute immunity from a host country's criminal jurisdiction, according to New York-based attorney Anand Ahuja.

They may be tried for certain local laws by a local court, and are immune from local jurisdiction only in cases directly relating to consular functions, he told local media.

Another New York attorney Ravi Batra, who has handled such cases before, suggested creation of a new legal category for diplomatic foreign domestic workers exempting them from US labour laws, including, wages and hours.

Until then "American laws must be followed to avoid both criminal and civil liability as well as diaspora and foreign-sovereign embarrassment," he said.

Diplomatic corps of foreign nations who pay their workers below US-mandated hours and wage standards "remain at high risk to be in the crosshairs of illegality and reputation-suicide," Batra said.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)



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