The Indian diplomat at the center of a heated dispute between the U.S. and India left the United States on Thursday night after being granted full diplomatic immunity.
According to numerous media reports, Devyani Khobragade, the deputy of India’s consulate in New York City, boarded a plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport in NYC on Thursday night and is on her way back to India. She fled the U.S. after Washington granted her full diplomatic immunity but immediately asked India to waive it so she could be tried for visa fraud, among other charges.
The question now is whether this will end the month-long heated dispute between India and the United States that began on December 12 when U.S. law enforcement officials arrested Khobragade.
American officials allege that Khobragade lied on a visa application submitted on behalf of an Indian national she brought to the United States to serve as her maid. Khobragade claimed she would pay the maid around $4,500 a month but, according to U.S. officials, instead had been paying her around $3 an hour or less, less than half the U.S. federal and New York State minimum wages.
Khobragade’s arrest and alleged treatment while in police custody ignited a firestorm in India. Soon after her arrest last month large groups of protesters demonstrated outside the U.S. embassy in Delhi, burning photos of President Obama. The Indian media has been nearly unanimous in expressing indignation over America’s handling of the case. Moreover, the Indian government has adopted numerous retaliatory actions against America’s diplomats in India, including removing the security barriers outside the U.S. embassy in Delhi despite the mass protests underway in the country.
Beyond the bluster, the standoff has centered on whether Khobragade’s diplomatic immunity protected her from prosecution in the United States. American officials claimed Khobragade’s diplomatic immunity was limited to activities she carried out as part of her official duties as an Indian consular official. As a result, they argued she could be charged for providing false information on the visa application as well as paying her private nanny less than the minimum wage. For its part, India’s government claimed Khobragade’s job affords her full protection from prosecution in the United States.
Shortly after her arrest last month, India tried to bolster its case by requesting that the United States approve her transfer to India’s UN mission in New York City, where she would be more fully protected from prosecution with full diplomatic immunity. The State Department must approve such transfers.
On Thursday, a U.S. government official announced that Washington had acceded to India’s transfer request but immediately asked India to waive Khobragade’s immunity so that she could be tried. When India predictably refused to waive her immunity, the U.S. asked that she leave the country. At the same time, Khobragade was indicted in federal court on charges of visa fraud and making false statements. The indictment revealed new facts about the case, including that Khobragade allegedly tried to “silence and intimidate the victim and her family and lie to Indian authorities and courts.”
Although a federal judge granted Khobragade permission to leave the United States on Thursday, the U.S. has promised to prosecute her should India decide later to waive her immunity or if she returns to the U.S. in a capacity in which she does not enjoy immunity. This may prove somewhat problematic for the Indian diplomat as her husband, Aakash Singh Rathore, is a U.S.-born American citizen, currently working at a U.S. university.
A defense lawyer for the Indian diplomat said on Thursday that “She knows she has done no wrong and she looks forward to assuring that the truth is known.” According to Indian media outlets, she will now be stationed at Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi.
Meanwhile, the nanny in the case—who fled Khobragade’s residence last year—is being a granted a temporary visa to stay in the U.S. on human trafficking grounds.