Devyani Khobragade arrest: US must apologise, action unacceptable, says Kamal Nath

New Delhi, Dec 20: Maintaining a tough stand against the United States over the arrest and strip search of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath on Friday said Washington must apologise and drop the charges against her, and added that there were no two ways about it.

“India will not accept anything less than an apology. America should drop all charges. America should know that times have changed and India has changed,” Nath told media here.

“Times have changed, India has changed… we cannot be taken for granted by the United States… they must apologise and drop charges,” he said.

The United States has ruled out acceding to either of the two Indian demands – withdrawal of charges against its Khobragade, and an apology for alleged mistreatment, after her arrest in New York last week.

“We take these allegations very seriously. We’re not in any way walking back from those allegations or the charges. Again, this is really a law enforcement issue,” the State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf, said.

She refused to distance the State Department from alleged highly rhetorical statement of Preet Bharara, the US prosecutor handling the case, as was being reported from India.

The report came following the telephonic conversation between the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, and India’s Foreign Secretary, Sujatha Singh.

According to reports quoting the sources, Sherman’s call was a follow-up to a call made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon Wednesday, during which Kerry expressed regret over the situation.

Both sides on Thursday discussed specific steps during which the statement by Preet Bharara came up, defending his department’s action against Khobragade.

It has been reported that Sherman has distanced herself from Bharara’s statement.

Earlier, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has reportedly rebutted claims made by Bharara that Khobragade was “accorded courtesies” and not handcuffed when she was arrested.

Media reports quoted sources in the MEA as saying that Bharara’s claims were mere allegations, and that nothing has been proved as yet on any wrong being committed by Khobragade vis-a-viz her former maid Sangeetha Richards.

Sources in the MEA are being quoted by media television channels, as saying that the Indian Government is hardening its stance on the issue, and is demanding nothing short of an apology from the U.S. Government and a dropping of the case against Khobragade.

New Delhi is maintaining that there is only one victim in the case, and that is Devyani Khobragade. It claims that no courtesies were extended to the diplomat as is being claimed by Bharara.

It said that U.S. Government should have focussed on Sarah Richards and her family and not on Khobragade and her family.

Referring to the evacuation of Richards family members from India to the United States, the MEA was quoted, as saying that no foreign government had a right to evacuate an Indian citizens while cases were pending against them.

Earlier, Bharara vowed to hold those breaking the law accountable “no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are.”

Bharara claimed there has been “misinformation and factual inaccuracy” in the reporting on the Khobragade case which is “creating an inflammatory atmosphere.” Between the United States and India.

“There has been much misinformation and factual inaccuracy in the reporting on the charges against Devyani Khobragade. It is important to correct these inaccuracies because they are misleading people and creating an inflammatory atmosphere on an unfounded basis,” he said.

Accepting that he has a limited role as a prosecutor in the visa fraud case involving Khobragade, Bharara said he had constraints in explaining the whole case as he would like, but “nevertheless would make sure that the public record is clearer than it has been thus far.”

Bharara continues to maintain that Khobragade evaded U.S. laws designed to protect the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers from exploitation.

“This Office’s sole motivation in this case, as in all cases, is to uphold the rule of law, protect victims, and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law, no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are,” he said.

He further said that legal attempts had begun in India against the victim, who had worked as a domestic help for Khobragade, and attempts were being made to “silence” her.

He said the domestic help’s family was brought to the United States to ensure the safety of victims, witnesses and their families, while cases are pending.

He said that she was charged based on conduct as is alleged in the court complaint, that “shows she clearly tried to evade U.S. law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers.”

A 1999 batch IFS officer, Khobragade, India’s Deputy Consul General in New York, was arrested on December 12 by the State Department’s diplomatic security bureau, and then handed over to the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS).

Khobragade was taken into custody as she was dropping her daughter to school before being released on a USD 250,000 bond after pleading not guilty in court. (ANI)