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India asks US to withdraw Delhi embassy diplomat Indian diplomat in servant face-off indicted, leaving US

NEW YORK, Jan 10, (AFP): An Indian diplomat whose arrest in New York sparked an intense row was leaving the United States Thursday as she was hit with federal charges over treatment of her servant, officials said. After weeks of escalating tensions between the usually friendly countries, the United States and India reached an agreement under which diplomat Devyani Khobragade leaves the country but still faces charges if she returns. Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the southern district of New York, informed a judge that a grand jury had filed two counts of visa fraud and making false statements against Khobragade but said there would be no need to arraign her before a court due to her absence. “We understand that the defendant was very recently accorded diplomatic immunity status and that she departed the United States today,” Bharara told the judge. Bharara’s office later clarified that Khobragade was leaving the United States as part of an agreement but that she had not yet departed by Thursday afternoon.

A US government official said the United States agreed to Indian requests to switch the accreditation of Khobragade, the deputy consul general in New York, to the United Nations to give her greater immunity. UN accreditation is “typically only denied when there’s a national security risk. So that’s not obviously the case here,” the official told AFP. Khobragade’s arrest on Dec 12 spurred outrage in India, especially when it was revealed she was strip-searched. The incident sent once warming relations between the world’s two largest democracies into freefall. India said that the arrest breached norms and retaliated by removing security barriers outside the US embassy first placed after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks. India also cut back perks for US diplomats, and US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz postponed a visit due next week to India.

Meanwhile, the Indian government asked the United States Friday to withdraw a New Delhi embassy diplomat in a fresh escalation of a bitter diplomatic row just as it appeared to be cooling down, an official said. The two countries have been at loggerheads over Indian consulate worker Devyani Khobragade, who was arrested and charged in New York for visa fraud and making false statements relating to the employment of her domestic servant. She flew home on Friday after a deal in which she was granted full diplomatic immunity — something not offered to consular officials — which appeared to have resolved the feud. But an Indian foreign ministry official said that New Delhi had requested that Washington withdraw a diplomat of a “similar rank” to Khobragade who had been involved in the case. “It is understood that this person was involved ... in the process,” he said without elaborating. India reacted with outrage after 39-year-old Khobragade was arrested in front of her children’s school and then allegedly subjected to a cavity search while in custody.

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