India serious on Khobragade case, US expresses regret

New Delhi, Dec 31: As the US again expressed regret over the arrest and handcuffing of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, India Tuesday indicated its firmness in not letting the US easily off the hook, saying it is “serious about processing and proceeding” in the case.

The external affairs ministry has set up a group of experts, including in international law, human resource and finance, to discuss how to proceed against the US authorities in the wake of the Dec 12 handcuffing and strip-search of Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, which caused widespread outrage in India.

Khobragade has been accused of visa fraud and underpaying her child’s nanny – charges she has denied.

US Ambassador Nancy J. Powell in a New Year message expressed “regret” over the way Khobragade was arrested. She said the forward movement in India-US relations has been “jolted by the very different reactions to issues involving one of your consular officers and her domestic worker”.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State John Kerry had expressed regret in a call to National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon.

India has demanded the US take back all charges against Khobragade and offer an unconditional apology.

While the US maintains her consular status does not provide immunity from arrest, India has said she has been an advisor at India’s Permanent Mission in the UN from August, which gave her full diplomatic immunity under the Geneva Conventions.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said “a group of specialist officials” has been set up. They are to follow the case on a regular basis, if necessary on a day-to-day basis, “to indicate how we should proceed on the matter.” The group was set up by Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and had its first meeting Monday.

“We are serious about processing and proceeding on the matter,” the spokesperson said.

He said the US State Department is examining Khobragade’s application for accreditation as delegate to India’s Permament Mission in the UN in New York. India moved the envoy to its UN mission to provide her with full diplomatic immunity.

Akbaruddin added: “As far as we are concerned, she (Khobragade) is and will remain an Indian diplomat” – reflecting India’s position that the US should have observed diplomatic protocol in the case.

He also said notwithstanding some sections in the US justifying the handcuffing and strip- and cavity-search of the diplomat as a matter of standard procedure, there were “different voices” emanating from the US, adding “we respond only to designated channels”.

The spokesperson said the US embassy and consulates in India have requested for more time to submit details of their Indian staff and the salary being paid to them, as most were on leave on account of end of year holiday season.

India has already withdrawn the airport passes given to US diplomats in India and the special diplomatic identity cards issued to them as part of reciprocal measures after the arrest of Khobragade.

To a question on how the husband and two children of Khobragade’s domestic help, Sangeeta Richard managed to fly to the US, Akbaruddin said India was examining the matter to see if there was any infringement of Indian tax laws in the purchase of flight tickets for them. “We have some leads on this, we have some information,” he added.

The husband and two children of Richard, who accused Khobragade of underpaying and overworking her, were quietly flown to New York two days before her arrest, despite a police case against him in New Delhi.

IANS