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India expels US diplomat day after its own is sent packing

Reuters

Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade leaves with her father Uttam Khobragade, left, to meet India's foreign minister in New Delhi. Khobragade boarded a flight back to India this week at the request of the U.S.

The Indian government has asked the U.S. to remove one person from the American embassy in Delhi a day after one of its own diplomats — whose arrest and strip-search has strained tensions between the countries — was sent packing.

The State Department confirmed that one official at the embassy will be leaving.

"We deeply regret that the Indian government felt it was necessary to expel one of our diplomatic personnel. This has clearly been a challenging time in the U.S.-India relationship," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"We expect and hope that this will now come to closure, and the Indians will now take significant steps with us to improve our relationship and return it to a more constructive place," she added.

The shuffle diplomacy came less than 24 hours after Devyani Khobragade, India's former deputy consul in New York, boarded a flight back to India at the request of the U.S.


Federal prosecutors on Thursday unveiled an indictment charging Khobragade, 39, with visa fraud and making a false statement for allegedly submitting bogus papers to bring a housekeeper to the U.S. and pay her well below minimum wage.

Khobragade's Dec. 12 arrest and accompanying strip search caused a firestorm in her homeland, where her treatment was denounced by government officials as "barbaric."

India stripped American diplomats of some perks and then moved Khobragade to a new post at the United Nations that came with immunity from criminal charges.

The State Department asked India to waive the immunity so she could be prosecuted. When it refused, Khobragade was asked to leave the country, U.S. officials said.

Once she left American soil, her diplomatic immunity vanished, officials said.

Andrew Burton / Getty Images file

Preet Bharara, United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.

"Prior to her departure, it was conveyed to her and to the government of India that she is not permitted to return to the United States, except to submit to the jurisdiction of the court," Psaki said.

"Her name would be placed in visa and immigration lookout system to prevent the routine issuance of any future visa, and upon her departure a warrant may be issued for her arrest," Psaki said.

Khobragade's lawyer, Daniel Arshack, blasted Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for charging his client and accused him and his investiagtors of serious "blunders."

"Her head is held high," Arshack said in a statement after the mother of two left New York. "She knows she has done no wrong and looks forward to assuring the truth is known."

A 20-page indictment accuses Khobragade of creating a fake employment contract to obtain a visa for the domestic worker, Sangeet Richard, that claimed she would pay her $9.75 an hour for 40 hours of work a week.

In reality, the Manhattan grand jury found, Khobragade had negotiated a secret deal with the maid to pay her just $3.33 an hour and ended up paying her less than $2 an hour by making her work 90-plus hours a week with no days off, including sick time.

"On two occasions when the victim became ill, the victim was not given a sick day," the indictment said. "On one occasion, the victim had to ask to see a doctor several times before Khobragade relented. Khobragade told the victim not to get sick because it was expensive."

"The victim was routinely called upon at all hours to perform her duties, which included caring for Khobragade's two children, cooking, and cleaning Khobragade's home."

The indictment also alleges that Khobragade confiscated Richard's passport and refused to return it and refused her requests to quit and return home to India.

In June, Richard left the home and turned to a nonprofit group that supports human trafficking victims, and Khobragade and others launched an intimidation campaign that culminated with the diplomat bringing charges of theft against the maid in India, the court papers say.

Arshack denied the charges.

"Dr. Khobragade did not make any false statements and she paid her domestic worker what she was entitled to be paid," he said.