Govt says Devyani victim of conspiracy, accuses US of facilitating visa fraud

AGENCIES
Published Dec 18, 2013, 11:18 pm IST
Updated Jan 20, 2016, 3:22 pm IST
India accuses US of facilitating immigration fraud in the case; John Kerry expresses regret.
Supporters of Shivsena walk with people representing U.S. President Barack Obama near the U.S Embassy to protest against the alleged mistreatment of New York based Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, in New Delhi on Wednesday - AP
 Supporters of Shivsena walk with people representing U.S. President Barack Obama near the U.S Embassy to protest against the alleged mistreatment of New York based Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, in New Delhi on Wednesday - AP

New Delhi: India on Wednesday said its Deputy Consul General in New York Devyani Khobragade was trapped in a 'conspiracy' and accused US of a fraud by granting a visa to the family of her absconding maid even as the diplomat has now been transferred to the country's Mission to UN to give her fuller diplomatic immunity.

"She is innocent... It is not the illegality that she (Khobragade) is accused of, but the illegality she refused to oblige," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told Parliament about Khobragade, who was arrested last week 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.

 

Read more: John Kerry calls Menon, expresses regret on treatment of Khobragade

A 1999-batch IFS officer, Khobragade was put through both strip and cavity searches, procedures normally used for criminals, evoking 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.

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.

Read here: India freezes diplomatic perks for US consulates including duty-free alcohol

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 Americans facilitated a visa fraud even after being told by India that there was a risk of illegal immigration by Sangeeta and her family.

There is also resentment among officials here who feel that the US department gave 'dead wrong' information about Indian mission being informed in writing in September of allegations of abuse made by an Indian national against Khobragade and that they were in touch with India on the issue.

Read here: Angry India downgrades privileges of US diplomats

The Prime Minister also termed the treatment meted out to Khobragade who was arrested, handcuffed, strip-searched and put in jail with common criminals by the US government as "deplorable".

Making suo motu statements in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Khurshid strongly condemned the treatment and termed the action by the US government as unwarranted. The minister 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.

Read here: US to review Indian diplomat's arrest, admits strip-search

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. 

To US' concerns over diplomats' security, the government here 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.

Interestingly, Sangeeta Richard's mother-in-law was employed with a senior US diplomat, who was posted in India between 2002-2007 and her father-in-law is still understood to be working in the US embassy here. Husband, Philip, was believed to be working as a driver with the Mozambique mission before he left for New York on T- Visa.

A T-visa is a type of visa allowing certain victims of human trafficking and immediate family members to remain and work temporarily in the United States if they agree to assist law enforcement in testifying against the perpetrators.

Next: Members outraged over action against Indian diplomat

Members outraged over action against Indian diplomat

New Delhi: Members in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday expressed outrage over the action against an Indian diplomat in New York and said Parliament should speak in one voice that India will not stoop to foreign pressure.

Speaking on diplomat Devyani Khobragade's arrest, Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP) demanded that the House should pass a resolution condemning the US action against Khobragade.

He alleged that the government is 'shaking with fear' of the US and this has led to increase in such cases.

Yadav said Uttar Pradesh Minister Azam Khan was stopped at a US airport for one-and-a-half hours. "The US itself had invited him for successfully conducting the Kumbh Mela but treated him like this," he said.

Union Ministers Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel as well as former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and former Defence Minister George Fernandes were insulted by the US, he said. "Just because US conducted some (nuclear) explosions we are cowering with fear. Will America's bullying go on?" he asked.

Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj associated with the issue raised by Yadav. She said even Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar had to face insult.

"Devyani Khobragade had gone to drop her daughter when she was arrested and handcuffed," Swaraj said, condemning the incident.

BJP also said the government should take appropriate action in the case of Sunil James, a sailor who has been arrested by Togo. "His 11-month-old son died and his embalmed body has been kept in the hope that James will return and perform the last rites," Swaraj said. She lamented that even a small country like Togo is now bullying India.

"Parliament should speak in one voice that India will not stoop to foreign pressure," Swaraj said.

Participating in the impromptu debate, Sanjay Nirupam (Cong) condemned the alleged ill treatment meted out to the Indian diplomat in the US saying that government must take strongest possible action against the 'inhuman' behaviour of the US authorities.

Raising the issue of Indian sailor Sunil James, Nirupam said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid should talk to their counterparts for his early release.

"We must take strong action in both the cases so that no one can dare to act against innocent Indians in future," he said.

The Congress member also drew the attention of the House about the death of an Indian in Doha airport saying the Qatar authorities have refused to cooperate in the investigation to find out the exact reason if his death.

"Such incidents must stop. We must demonstrate that we are not a soft state but a strong state," he said.

Condemning the alleged insult and inhuman behaviour to the Indian diplomat, Trinamool Congress member Saugata Roy demanded adoption of a House resolution condemning the action by the United States.

Appreciating government action against American diplomats posted in India, Roy said the incident of Khobragade was not the first incident when the US authorities 'misbehaved' with an Indian.

"They did the same thing to former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Defence Minister Geroge Fernandes, Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan. The US act as if they are the big brother. But they are not. We Indians stand united in such incidents," he said.

Supriya Sule (NCP) supported the government action in the wake of Khobragade's arrest and subsequent alleged ill treatment saying that a message must go to everyone that government was committed to protect the interests of Indians living abroad.

Condemning the arrest of the diplomat in New York, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav said government must take strong action as there have been several incidents in the past when US authorities allegedly mistreated prominent Indians, including former Defence Minister George Fernandes and Heavy Industry Minister Praful Patel.

M. Thambidurai (AIADMK) condemned the alleged insult of Khobragade and mentioned the alleged "humiliation" meted out to former President Kalam when he had visited the US.

Dara Singh Chauhan (BSP) drew the attention of the House to the alleged discrimination being faced by people of Uttar Pradesh living abroad.

Nama Nageswara Rao (TDP) said India has been lenient towards foreigners and even allowed two Italian marines, accused of murdering Kerala fishermen, to to home to cast votes in an election. He said India must demonstrate its commitment to protect the interests of its people living abroad.

Tathagata Satpathy (BJD) said action must be taken against the US as the country has offended and humiliated many Indians visiting that country.

Anant Geete (Shiv Sena) said the US has been repeatedly humiliating Indian government and New Delhi must take strongest possible action so that no such incident takes place in the future. 

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