India diplomat in US is transferred to UN mission
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Indian diplomat who was strip-searched after her arrest in New York City on visa charges has been transferred to India’s mission to the United Nations, her lawyer and a former colleague said Wednesday.
It is unclear how such a move might affect Devyani Khobragade’s immunity from prosecution. A U.N. spokesman, however, said the world body had not received the necessary transfer request for her as of Wednesday evening.
Secretary of State John Kerry called a top Indian official to express his regret over the incident, which has outraged India and put a chill in the countries’ relations. India has revoked privileges for U.S. diplomats in protest.
Khobragade, who was India’s deputy consul general in New York, was arrested last week outside of her daughter’s Manhattan school on charges that she lied on a visa application about how much she paid her housekeeper, an Indian national. Prosecutors say the maid received less than $3 per hour for her work.
Khobragade has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of 10 years for visa fraud and five years for making a false declaration.
Khobragade says she has full diplomatic immunity. The State Department disputes that, saying hers is more limited to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.
Her work status late Wednesday was not clear.
Venkatasamy Perumal, consul for press and information at the Indian consulate in New York, said Khobragade was transferred Tuesday to India’s U.N. mission, but he declined to comment further.
Requests for comment to the U.N. mission’s first secretary were not immediately returned.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters that when such a transfer request is made to the United Nations, the U.N. Secretariat would inform the State Department. It then would have to be reviewed by appropriate authorities in both places.
“It’s not an automatic thing by any means,” Harf said.
At the U.N., spokesman Jerome Bernard said, “as of now, the Secretariat has not received any letter.”
Khobragade’s lawyer, Daniel Arshack, said he didn’t know what she would be doing at the U.N. mission, but “I fully expect her to stay in the U.S.”
Khobragade has said U.S. authorities subjected her to a strip search, cavity search and DNA swabbing following her arrest.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described her treatment as “deplorable.”
In India, the fear of public humiliation resonates strongly, and heavy-handed treatment by the police is normally reserved for the poor. For an educated, middle-class woman to face public arrest and a strip search is almost unimaginable, except in the most brutal crimes.
Harf, the State Department spokeswoman, said Kerry called India’s National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, who has slammed the diplomat’s treatment as “despicable and barbaric.”
In an email published in India media on Wednesday, Khobragade said she was treated like a common criminal.
“I broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, in a holdup with common criminals and drug addicts were all being imposed upon me despite my incessant assertions of immunity,” she wrote.
An Indian official with direct knowledge of the case confirmed to The Associated Press that the email was authentic. The official, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the case, said India’s priority now is to get the woman returned home.
“India’s top demand right now is: Return our diplomat,” he said, adding that Khobragade, who was released on $250,000 bail, would have to report to police in New York every week.
Khobragade was arrested by the Department of State’s diplomatic security team and then handed over to U.S. marshals in New York.
The U.S. Marshals Service confirmed Tuesday that it had strip-searched Khobragade and placed her in a cell with other female defendants. It described the measures as “standard arrestee intake procedures.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said “this isolated episode is not indicative of the close and mutually respectful ties” that the U.S. and India share.
India retaliated against U.S. diplomats with measures that include revoking diplomat ID cards that brought certain privileges, demanding to know the salaries paid to Indian staff in U.S. Embassy households and withdrawing import licenses that allowed the commissary at the U.S. Embassy to import alcohol and food.
On Wednesday, dozens of people protested outside the U.S. Embassy, saying Khobragade’s treatment was an insult to all Indian women.
Nimrala reported from New Delhi. Associated Press videographer David Martin in New York and writers Mat Pennington in Washington and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
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