US court dismisses Devyani indictment

New York :  Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, whose arrest and strip search soured Indo-US relations, on Thursday got major relief with a US court dismissing her federal indictment in a visa fraud case and ruling that she had full diplomatic immunity.

US court dismisses Devyani indictment

Khobragade was accused of lying on a visa application about how much she paid her housekeeper. She was indicted on January 9 by a federal grand jury on one count of visa fraud and making false statements.

Khobragade then filed a motion to dismiss the charges, claiming she was “cloaked in diplomatic immunity at the time of her arrest,” according to the motion. The court agreed, stating that Khobragade was “appointed a counsellor to the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations, a position that cloaked her with full diplomatic immunity.” She was appointed to that position on January 8, a day before she was indicted.

‘‘Even if Khobragade had no immunity at the time of her arrest and has none now, her acquisition of immunity during the pendency of proceedings mandates dismissal,” US District Judge Shira Scheindlin has said.

“The government may not proceed on an indictment obtained when Khobragade was immune from the jurisdiction of the court,” the judge added.

Khobragade’s attorney, Daniel Arshack, said in a statement that Khobragade is pleas-

ed that “the rule of law has prevailed.” “We are heartened that the court agreed with our legal analysis and rejected the prosecution’s arguments by dismissing the case,” he said.

India’s external affairs spokesman, Syed Akbaruddin, issued a statement welcoming the ruling.

The ruling, however, left open the possibility that US prosecutors could bring a new indictment against her, and they “intend to proceed accordingly,” said James Margolin, a spokesman for Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara.  The prosecution stand was outlined after the judge did not bar it from bringing new charges in future.

Khobragade’s lawyer, however, said any decision to re-indict her might well be viewed as an “aggressive and unnecessary act”.

Khobragade, who left the United States in January, is now working for the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi. Her husband and children are still in the US.

Yoshita Singh

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