NEW YORK / NEW DELHI (Reuters) — An Indian
diplomat charged in New York with visa fraud and making false statements
about her domestic worker has won a dismissal of her federal indictment,
in a move that could help smooth over a dispute that has frayed
Devyani Khobragade, who was India's deputy consul-general in New
York, had diplomatic immunity when she sought on January 9 to
dismiss the indictment, and thus could not be prosecuted, U.S.
District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan ruled on Wednesday.
New Delhi gave a cautious welcome to the news but it was far from
clear if the matter had been fully resolved. U.S. prosecutors could
still seek a fresh indictment, while in India reports emerged that
Khobragade's two children held both U.S. and Indian passports, in
apparent violation of Indian rules.
India is due to kick off a general election on April 7 and its major
political parties have vied to outdo each other in condemning the
U.S. over the Khobragade case, as they seek to match public anger
over the row.
Narendra Modi, the prime-ministerial candidate of the opposition
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), brought up the diplomat's
"ill-treatment" in a meeting with U.S. ambassador to India Nancy
Powell last month. Modi has topped several recent opinion polls as
the most popular choice for prime minister.
U.S. prosecutors have accused Khobragade of making Sangeeta Richard,
her housekeeper and nanny, work 100-hour weeks at a salary of just
over $1 an hour, far below the legal minimum U.S. wage of $7.25 an
They argued that the indictment should stand because Khobragade did
not have diplomatic immunity either when she was arrested, or now
that she has left the country. They can seek a fresh indictment but
it is not yet clear if they will do so.
"As the court indicated in its decision, and as Devyani Khobragade
has conceded, there is currently no bar to a new indictment against
her for her alleged criminal conduct, and we intend to proceed
accordingly," said James Margolin, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney
Preet Bharara in Manhattan.
Scheindlin said Khobragade had immunity on January 9 when the
indictment was issued, having the day before been named a counselor
to India's mission to the United Nations. She also lifted
Khobragade's bail and said open arrest warrants based on the
indictment must be thrown out.
India's foreign ministry welcomed the dismissal but would wait for
its lawyers to go through the court order before giving a detailed
reaction, a ministry spokesman said. The U.S. Department of State
was not immediately available for comment.
Khobragade, 39 at the time of her arrest on December 12, is now
working for the foreign ministry in Delhi, having left the United
States in January, said her U.S. lawyer, Daniel Arshack.
Khobragade's arrest and subsequent strip-search provoked an outcry
in India, setting off reprisals against U.S. diplomats and the
removal of some security barriers near the U.S. embassy in New
Delhi. Many Indians thought the case reflected U.S. arrogance
towards their country.
The dispute led to the postponement of trips by U.S. officials and
business executives to India, although this month moves have been
made to get relations between the world's two largest democracies
back on track.
Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal, Washington's point person
for South Asia, visited India last week after a two-month delay.
U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz also came to India this week on a
The attempts to strengthen ties, however, are blighted by trade rows
between the two countries over issues including drug patents and
Meanwhile, the citizenship of Khobragade's children is causing a
stir in India, with fresh local media reports on Thursday that her
two daughters have both U.S. and Indian passports. India offers
certain kinds of lifelong visas for people of Indian origin but does
not allow dual citizenship.
Khobragade's father, Uttam, told Reuters that the children are U.S.
citizens who have only been issued Indian passports to allow them to
travel with their mother. They do not have dual citizenship and
their Indian passports are kept at the Indian embassy in New York,
"What is the great deal with that?" he said. "This is just to
facilitate their travel."
The foreign ministry declined immediate comment on whether this
broke any rules.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York and Shyamantha Asokan in
New Delhi; editing by Douglas Busvine and Jeremy Laurence)