Devyani: USA refuses to drop charges

Washington/New Delhi, Dec 20 : While India continued to fume over the treatment meted out to its diplomat Devyani Khobragade after her arrest and pushed USA to drop the charges of visa fraud against her over her missing Indian housekeeper and controversy over her "low wages" in America, a US state department spokesperson on Thursday said they took the charges against the diplomat seriously and the matter is with the judicial process.

".... And certainly, what I was going to say - and for the judicial process to make - we certainly take these types of allegations very seriously though. It's not a decision for us whether to prosecute or not, right? But we very clearly have said every year in diplomatic notes to every country that has diplomats here throughout the world that there are obligations they have for their staffs when they bring them to the United States. We make those obligations very clear and we take any allegations that they haven't done so very seriously. So certainly, there's no discussion like that going on. We just want the process to move forward," said Marie Harf, Deputy Spokesperson of the US state department, to a question by a journalist in Washington.

An angry India shot back with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath on Friday demanding a serious apology and dropping of the charges.

"USA should understand that the world has changed, time has changed and India has changed," said Kamal Nath in New Delhi.

Opposition BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said the entire episode was cooked up to frame Devyani Khobragade who was arrested and then strip-searched and put in a lock up with drug addicts and other criminals in USA by Indian-origin US Attorney Preet Bharara.

Harf also said that her department has not "yet received an official request through proper channels for re-accreditation" of Devyani after it was reported that India shifted her to the UN Mission so that she can enjoy stronger diplomatic immunity.

Harf said: "It would depend on what kind of position a person's being transferred to. But generally speaking, if there's a change in immunity, right, because of a different diplomatic status, that immunity would start on the date it's conferred, after the process. So there's a process: it goes to the UN Secretariat, comes to the U.S. State Department, everybody has to say yes. There's a process, a bureaucratic process. And then, if a different diplomatic status is conferred, it's conferred at that date."

"It is not retroactive," she said adding that "without going into specifics about some of those details, the U.S. Government has taken steps to reunite the alleged victim [the domestic maid of Devyani in question] with her family."

USA has granted with suspicious alacrity visa to the family of the "absconding" maid Sangeeta Richard, the nanny whose low wages apparently led to the episode.

Reports said since June this year, India was in touch with the US authorities after the passport of the maid was cancelled.

On Thursday's media briefing in Washington, Harf said: "We are aware of the existence of allegations that the family was intimidated in India. Obviously, I can't confirm those. But in general, we take those kinds of allegations very seriously."

Harf said USA is focused on working to move the relationship [India-USA] forward.

"Under Secretary Sherman spoke this morning with Foreign Secretary Singh again. They had a good conversation. And also, there's a process, right, in place right now through the judicial system, a legal process that we also would like to see play out. And we'll continue having conversations with the Indian Government, certainly, as this process moves forward," she said.

She said USA "certainly adhere to the Vienna Convention"when told that Vienna Convention rules were violated in case of Devyani.

To a question on whether she thinks the U.S. Attorney made some kind of mistakes in the case of Devyani, she said: "Well, a couple points. Obviously, we adhere to the Vienna Convention, as we expect other countries to as well. I think the Secretary - the statement yesterday about the Secretary expressing regrets, especially that certain - I think this is one issue we've talked about a lot here - he certainly had regrets that certain courtesies were not extended in this case."

"I think it's fair to say that that's why we're looking at what happened. We work very closely with our law enforcement colleagues. The gentleman that you mentioned that put out a statement last night also said some very positive things about working with the State Department and what we had done. So we obviously take law enforcement matters very seriously. We'll continue working with the law enforcement community going forward on this. But I think the Secretary was very clear when I spoke yesterday about the regret that he was expressing in this case," she said.

Indian has strongly criticised US Attorney Preet Bharara's statement that justified the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade.

Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said Devyani was the 'only victim' as she was arrested on visa fraud charges.

"We have seen the statement issued by the Manhattan US Attorney on December 18. We need to keep in mind the simple fact that there is only one victim in this case. That victim is Devyani Khobragade - a serving Indian Diplomat on mission in the United States. The action taken against her was not in keeping with the Vienna Convention. There were no courtesies in the treatment that was meted out to the diplomat, under the normal definition of that word in the English language," Akbaruddin said in a statement on Thursday.

He gave the reply over Bharara's statement that justified the Indian diplomat's arrest.

"The statement includes remarks about equality before the law of both the rich and the poor. Not only is this a rhetorical remark that is not conducive to resolving 'inaccuracies', it is also not a feature of the law that is exclusive to the office of the Manhattan US Attorney," Akbaruddin said.

"The statement in question acknowledges that legal processes were in place in India. Yet, incredibly, it invites speculation about why it was necessary to evacuate the family of Ms Richards and about the action purportedly being taken against them," he said.

--IBNS (Posted on 20-12-2013)

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