Indian diplomat accused of visa fraud returns to India

Devyani Khobragade, the Indian diplomat at the centre of a diplomatic row between India and the US has returned to India without standing trial for visa fraud. Mrs Khobragade had been charged by a grand jury with underpaying her Indian employee Sangeeta Richard, in contravention of US visa law.

Mrs Khobragade was charged with making multiple false statements in support of her visa application for Ms Richard on Thursday 9th January 2014 but, with diplomatic relations under severe strain, US officials issued Mrs Khobragade with a G-1 visa, usually reserved for employees and diplomats working at the UN and other international organisations.

The G-1 visa gave her full diplomatic immunity from prosecution. She was then expelled from the country. If convicted, she would have faced a jail term of up to ten years.

US officials cancelled trip to India

The US will hope that diplomatic relations can now return to normal. It has already delayed trips to India by senior officials because it was likely that they would not have been given an official reception in New Delhi.

Mrs Khobragade was the Deputy Consul General at the Indian Consulate in New York when she hit the headlines on December 11th 2013. She was arrested as she dropped her daughter off at her New York school. She was later strip searched and charged with visa fraud. She was later released on $250,000 bail.

The US authorities claim that Mrs Khobragade obtained an A-3 visa for Ms Richards by fraud. They claim that she made false statements to US immigration to the effect that Ms Richard was being paid $4500 per month to work as Ms Khobragade's daughter's nanny. Ms Richard has made a statement to the effect that she was, in fact, earning only $500 a month.

A-3 visa

Ms Richard was granted an Indian diplomatic passport so that she could travel to the US with Mrs Khobragade and her family. The A-3 visa would have been attached to this passport.

US law requires that foreign staff brought to the US must be paid at least the US minimum wage of $9.75 per hour. Ms Richard claims she was actually paid about $3.31 per hour. Mrs Khobragade made statements in support of Ms Richard's visa application to the affect that Ms Richard was earning the legal minimum wage.

Mrs Khobragade's US lawyer says that these statements were true and says that Mrs Khobragade was paying Mrs Richard 'exactly what she ought to have been paying her'.

'A grey area'

Indian officials have not denied that Ms Richard was underpaid but, according to The Guardian, a UK newspaper, say that the charges relate to 'a grey area open to interpretation'.

The incident has provoked a fierce diplomatic row. India made strong protests to the US. The speaker of the Indian parliament, Meira Kumar, refused to meet a delegation from the US Congress that was visiting New Delhi.

At one point, security barriers outside the US embassy in Delhi were removed and police security withdrawn from the embassy. Indian officials warned of further action to follow.

Double standards

Al Jazeera reported Washington-based Indian journalist Seema Sirohi as saying that the case showed the US's 'double standards'. 'If an American diplomat was treated like this in India, can you imagine the outcry in the US?' she asked.

Ms Richard left the home of Ms Khobragade in June 2013 and, a few weeks later, made a complaint about her treatment to a US immigration lawyer. The Indian government has since revoked her diplomatic passport. This means that she is now living illegally in the US.

There are reports that her husband and child were taken into custody in India. They have since left India with the help of a US diplomat in India, Wayne May.

Nanny 'worked for CIA'

Since then, Mrs Khobragade's sister claims to have found Ms Richard's diary which, she says, proves that Ms Richard was being paid $3,000 a month. Mrs Khobragade's father has claimed that Ms Richard is a US agent working for the CIA.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry was forced to speak of his 'regret' about the incident on 18th December 2013.

Indian journalists based in the US say that the incident illustrates a difference in attitudes between US and Indian law enforcement authorities.

Have handcuffs, will use

Chidanand Rajghatta of the Times of India told Al Jazeera 'US law enforcement authorities operate on the principal of 'have handcuffs, will use', they do that all the time for any offence - no matter how minor'. Indian police tend to be very much more deferential to people of high status, he said.

Since Mrs Khobragade's expulsion from the US, India has retaliated by expelling US diplomat Wayne May. Indian officials say that further action may follow.

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