New Delhi/Washington: Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade who was formally indicted by a US grand jury and asked to leave the US is on her way back home, nearly a month after her arrest and strip search for alleged visa fraud.
India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin tweeted: “Devyani Khobragade given G1 visa with full diplomatic immunity on 8 Jan 2014. Airborne on way back to India.”
Khobragade’s handcuffing and strip search Dec 12 for alleged visa fraud and underpaying her child’s nanny, Sangeeta Richard, sparked protests in India. During the time of her arrest, Devyani was India’s deputy consul general in New York.
On Thursday, the 39-year-old diplomat was formally indicted by a US grand jury.
However, prosecutors said that Khobragade was also granted immunity and that US officials have asked her to leave the country.
In a statement issued after the hearing, her lawyer Daniel Arshack said Khobragade “is pleased to be returning to her country. Her head is held high. She knows she has done no wrong and she looks forward to assuring that the truth is known”.
The external affairs ministry in a statement said that “Khobragade, counsellor at the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York, was accorded Jan 8, 2014 the privileges and immunities of a diplomatic envoy under the terms of Section 15 of the Headquarters Agreement between the UN and the US. At the same time, the US government requested the government of India to waive the immunity of Counsellor Khobragade.”
“On Jan 9, 2014, the government of India declined to do so and transferred Counsellor Khobragade to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi.”
Khobragade reiterated her innocence on charges filed against her and “affirmed her gratitude to the government of India, in particular to the External Affairs Minister (Salman Khurshid), and the people of India, as also the media, for their strong and sustained support during this period”, the statement added.
“She also affirmed her determination to ensure that the episode would not leave a lasting impact on her family, in particular, her children, who are still in the United States,” the statement said.
According to reports, her maid Sangeeta Richard in a statement Thursday said: “I never thought that things would get so bad here, that I would work so much that I did not have time to sleep or eat or have time to myself.” The statement was released by anti-trafficking group Safe Horizon.
She tried to return to India because of how she’d been treated, she said, but her request was denied.
“I would like to tell other domestic workers who are suffering as I did – you have rights and do not let anyone exploit you,” said Richard in the statement.
Daniel Arshack, Khobragade’s lawyer, also said he was pleased the Department of State has recognised Khobragade’s diplomatic immunity. He said Khobragade did not make any false statements and paid her domestic worker what she was entitled to be paid.
The handcuffing and strip-search of Khobragade led to widespread outrage in India. She has denied the charges of visa fraud and underpaying her maid. Delhi ordered a series of diplomatic reprisal measures against the US, and relations between the two countries have been strained over the case.
India has demanded the US take back all charges against Khobragade and offer an unconditional apology.