India accuses US of fraud, says Devyani Khobragade trapped in conspiracy

The diplomatic row over the arrest of a senior Indian diplomat in New York showed no signs of abating with India on Wednesday accusing the US of a "fraud" and alleging that the diplomat had been trapped in a "conspiracy".

New Delhi: The diplomatic row over the arrest of a senior Indian diplomat in New York showed no signs of abating with India on Wednesday accusing the US of a "fraud" and alleging that the diplomat had been trapped in a "conspiracy".

Even as the outrage over the arrest of Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade continued with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh making his first comments describing as "deplorable" the way the diplomat was treated, she has been transferred to the Indian Mission to the UN to give her fuller diplomatic immunity.

In his first statement in Parliament on the issue, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said that she was the victim of a "conspiracy" and that some people had "trapped" Khobragade, who was put through both strip and cavity searches, procedures normally used for criminals.

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Narrating the sequence of events that began in June-July this year, Khurshid said the maid servant disappeared and a case was lodged with New York Police Department but no action was taken.

"The Deputy Consul General (later) received a phone call from a lawyer who refused to identify himself and offered to settle the matter that would result in grant of permanent citizenship to her and a huge compensation. It became clear that this was a conspiracy and some people trapped her," he said, adding the treatment meted out to Khobragade had "not happened out of blue" and there is a "history" behind it.

Significantly, the family of the maid, Sangeeta Richards, was granted visa by the US embassy despite India being in touch with Americans since her disappearance and cancellation of her official passport in June. The family - Sangeeta`s husband Philip and two children- left for New York on December 10, just two days before Khobragade was arrested.

Given the "odd" timing of the departure of the family of the maid and arrest of Indian diplomat, there is a feeling that there were "three rings of charade" as US facilitated a visa fraud even after being told by India that there was a risk of illegal immigration by Sangeeta and her family.

A 1999-batch IFS officer, Khobragade was arrested on December 12 on visa fraud charges as she was dropping her daughter to school and released on a USD 250,000 bond only after pleading not guilty in court.

The ill-treatment of the its diplomat evoked a sharp reaction from India which initiated a slew of steps to downgrade the privileges enjoyed by the US diplomats and their families including withdrawing airport passes and stopping import clearances.

Also Read: Devyani Khobragade recalls `indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping` in US jail

Khurshid also asserted that India will intervene "effectively and specifically" to ensure the return and restoration of dignity of its Deputy Consul General as it a matter of the country`s prestige and honour.

India also alleged that it tried to file a case of "extortion" in July when Khobragade received a phone call offering to settle the matter that would result in grant of permanent citizenship to her and a huge compensation but no action was taken.

Officials here also feel that the US, which has filed the case against Khobragade unlike previous two cases involving Indian diplomats in New York - Prabhu Dayal and Neena Malhotra - has shown "poor diplomatic behaviour" towards an officer representing her country in official capacity.

There is a strong demand that Khobragade should be released unconditionally and all the charges against her should be dropped.

Meanwhile, after India`s reaction of stripping the US diplomats of certain privileges and also removing the traffic barricades around the US embassy here, the US said it has conveyed at high levels its expectation that India will continue to fulfil its obligations under the Convention and ensure safety and security of its our diplomats.

To which India responded by saying that it was fully committed to ensuring security of all diplomats, including those from the US, within confines of its law and pledged full implementation of the Vienna Convention while asking other countries to do the same.

Also Read: India freezes diplomatic perks for US consulates

To US` concerns over diplomats` security, India maintains that there is no compromise on the security aspect of the diplomats and only the traffic aspect has been impacted with removal of the concrete barricades around the mission.

The reason given for removal of barricades was denial of designated parking space for the Indian embassy in Washington in January.

With nearly three cases involving senior Indian diplomats and their Indian-Based Domestic Assistants (IBDA) occurring in last three years, the government is also in the process of reviewing the policy dealing with the issue.

There is a move under which these IBDAs, who are entitled to boarding and lodging, return passage and holiday passage and same medical care as their bosses apart from cash payments, can be taken as contractual employees of government.

At present, they are treated as quasi-official staff.

Last week, India had summoned US Ambassador Nancy Powell and issued a demarche, conveying its "shock" over "absolutely unacceptable" treatment meted out to the senior Indian diplomat.

Powell had again met External Affairs Ministry officials on Monday and conveyed that the standard procedures were followed during the arrest of Khobragade who was then handed over to US marshals, indicating that the matter was handled by them and not by the State Department.

Also Read: US treatment of Indian diplomat ‘deplorable’ - PM

Objecting the "manner" in which its diplomat was treated, India conveyed that there are ways to handle such issue.

It maintained that the government which handles nearly 150 foreign missions in the country also deals with instances of diplomats misusing their immunity in the manner which was not offending or humiliating.