India, U.S. failed to find common ground on Devyani issue

In the case of former Indian Deputy Consul-General Devyani Khobragade, feverish closed-door negotiations between the Indian Embassy in Washington and the U.S. State Department to secure her right to avoid prosecution for visa fraud broke down by Thursday because India refused to accept a reduced criminal charge that the Department of Justice offered.

Two days after she departed from the U.S. under the protection of full diplomatic immunity linked to her temporary assignment to India’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, it has emerged that the U.S. prosecutors led by Attorney Preet Bharara were willing to reduce the felony charges on which Ms. Khobragade has been indicted by a grand jury.

However, sources said on condition of anonymity, “A misdemeanour is still a criminal count… For us the idea that an Indian diplomat faces criminal charges was out of question.”

Apparently the Indian point of view that even an option requiring Ms. Khobragade to plead guilty to a criminal charge and “pay $1” was unacceptable. As a result, sources said, “We tried everything in the book to see if our bottom lines met and our bottom lines did not meet.”

The moment it became clear that an “impasse” had been reached the Indian side concluded, “The only option left for us was to pursue the route of getting the visa for her as a diplomat of the U.N.”

The insight into the timeline of negotiations between the two sides came even as the State Department confirmed that Ms. Khobragade has lost her diplomatic immunity, will be placed on an “immigration lookout system” and is likely to also have an arrest warrant issued in her name.

After the State Department acceded to Ms. Khobragade’s credentialing request for the United Nations on Wednesday evening, the U.S. requested a waiver of the immunity State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Friday, but “it was denied”.

At that point the U.S. policy to then ask that the concerned diplomat “depart when there are serious charges involved,” applied and thus on Thursday evening Ms. Khobragade boarded a plane for New Delhi, where she was set to resume duties in a new role in the Ministry of External Affairs.

However Ms. Psaki reiterated that the charges against the senior Indian diplomat, which relate to allegations of underpaying her domestic worker Sangeeta Richard, would stand and she and the Government of India were informed that “she is not permitted to return to the U.S. except to submit to the jurisdiction of the court.”

While Ms. Khobragade is currently in India, her husband Aakash Singh Rathore, a U.S. citizen and a Pennsylvania University Professor, is still in the U.S. along with her two daughters aged four and seven.