Envoy in India-US row gets off the hook
AN INDIAN diplomat charged in New York with visa fraud and making false statements about a domestic worker she employed has won dismissal of a federal indictment, ending a chapter in a dispute that frayed United States-Indian diplomatic relations.
Ms Devyani Khobragade, who was India's deputy consul-general in New York, had diplomatic immunity when she sought to dismiss the indictment on Jan 9, and thus could not be prosecuted, US District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan ruled on Wednesday.
Prosecutors accused Ms Khobragade of making Ms Sangeeta Richard, her housekeeper and nanny, work 100-hour weeks at a salary of just over US$1 (S$1.27) an hour, far below the legal minimum US wage of US$7.25 an hour.
They argued that the indictment should stand because Ms Khobragade did not have diplomatic immunity either when she was arrested, or now, given that she has left the country.
However, Judge Scheindlin said Ms Khobragade had that immunity on Jan 9 when the indictment was issued, having the day before been named a counsellor to India's mission to the United Nations.
"Even if Ms 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," she wrote. "The government may not proceed on an indictment obtained when Ms Khobragade was immune from the jurisdiction of the court," Judge Scheindlin wrote.
She also lifted Ms Khobragade's bail and said open arrest warrants based on the indictment must be thrown out.