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India says U.S. must drop case against diplomat to defuse row

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[December 19, 2013]  NEW DELHI (Reuters)  India urged the United States to withdraw a visa fraud case against one of its diplomats in New York on Thursday, suggesting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's expression of regret over her treatment while in custody was not enough.

The arrest of Devyani Khobragade on charges of underpaying her nanny and her subsequent strip-search has touched off a furor within the Indian foreign service and put an unexpected strain on ties between the two countries.

It has also dredged up anger over the treatment of Indians abroad, in contrast to the privileges that foreigners are seen to enjoy in India.

Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters that New Delhi wasn't convinced there was a case against Khobragade who he said had been treated like a common criminal.

"We have asked for an explanation for what has happened... and why, and we have asked for the cases to be dropped and withdrawn immediately," Khurshid told reporters.


Khobragade was released on bail of $250,000 after giving up her passport and pleading not guilty to charges of visa fraud and making false statements about how much she paid the housekeeper, an Indian national. She faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted on both counts.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the case with Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. Kerry called to express regret about the case and his concern it not hurt the two countries' relationship, the State Department said.

But Indian government leaders suggested Kerry didn't go far enough to assuage Indian sensitivities.

"They should clearly apologize and accept they have made a mistake. Only then will we be satisfied," said Kamal Nath, India's parliamentary affairs minister.

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"At a minimum, they must unilaterally withdraw all charges against Devyani and tender an apology."

The U.S. Justice Department confirmed that Khobragade was strip-searched after her arrest. A senior Indian government source has also said the interrogation included a cavity search.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara defended the treatment and questioned why there wasn't as much sympathy for the housekeeper. He said it was standard practice for any defendant to go through a full search, "rich or poor, American or not".

In response to Khobragade's treatment, India has withdrawn some privileges given to U.S. diplomats and removed security barriers at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi.

Khurshid said he expected to speak to Kerry later on Thursday.

(Reporting by John Chalmers; writing by Sanjeev Miglani; editing by Nick Macfie)

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