New York: With the indictment on visa fraud charges against Devyani Khobragade being dismissed in the US, an eminent Indian-American attorney said one should hope that the Indian diplomat is not re-indicted on new charges.
US District Judge Shira Scheindlin said in her 14-page order yesterday that “it is undisputed” that Khobragade acquired full diplomatic immunity at 5:47 pm on January 8 after the US State Department approved her accreditation as a counselor to India’s mission to the United Nations.
While the indictment was returned on January 9, Khobragade had the immunity till she departed from the US for India on the evening of January 9 and so the prosecutors cannot proceed with the current indictment.
“Khobragade’s motion to dismiss the Indictment on the ground of diplomatic immunity is granted. Khobragade’s conditions of bail are terminated, and her bond is exonerated.
It is ordered that any open arrest warrants based on this Indictment must be vacated,” Scheindlin said.
Attorney Ravi Batra, who represents the Congress party and its leader Sonia Gandhi in various human rights violation cases filed here, said through the order on Khobragade’s motion, Scheindlin has “rightly acknowledged” the immunity that External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid negotiated with the US State Department.
“Judge Scheindlin’s order today vindicates both judicial independence and judicial excellence – she rightly acknowledged the immunity that Khurshid negotiated with our State Department in January and its consequential effect on the indictment unsealed on January 9th,” Batra told PTI in an email, responding to the judge’s order that caps three months
of a tense diplomatic standoff between the US and India.
“What is also clear is that on December 12th, when Devyani was arrested, she did not enjoy immunity from the arrest. One can only hope that US Attorney Preet Bharara’s exercise of prosecutorial discretion results in not re-indicting Devyani,” he said.
“There has been enough pain and suffering bilaterally, and we need these two countries to re-join the call of destiny: to help form a more perfect world,” Batra said.
While the indictment against Khobragade on visa fraud charges and making false statements on the visa application of her domestic help Sangeeta Richard has been dismissed, the ruling by the judge does not bar prosecutors from bringing a fresh indictment against her in the future.
She said “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”.
The judge ruled that the government “may not proceed on an indictment obtained when Khobragade was immune from the jurisdiction of the court”.
“The court has no occasion to decide whether the acts charged in the indictment constitute “official acts” that would be protected by residual immunity. However, if the acts charged in the indictment were not ‘performed in the exercise of official functions’, then there is currently no bar to a new indictment against Khobragade,” the order said.