External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid will speak to his US counterpart John Kerry later tonight or on Friday seeking the unconditional dropping of charges of visa fraud against Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade who was arrested and strip searched in New York on charges of visa fraud.
Mr. Kerry had spoken to National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon late on Wednesday night after Mr. Khurshid was ``unavailable’’ but there was no reassurance on India's main demand of dropping of all charges against Dr. Khobragade. Mr. Kerry empathised with the sensitivities in India about the events that unfolded after Dr. Khobragade’s arrest but he expected that laws will be followed by ``everyone in the US’’.
``I was not available when John Kerry called. We are trying to lock a time for a call. [Mr.] Kerry is in the Philippines and there is a huge time difference," he explained while sounding a note of caution about the consequences of letting the dispute linger on for too long. ``Our relationship has a lot of investment, it is an irreversible matter and we have to deal with it sensibly,’’ he said.
Mr. Khurshid refused to comment on US Attorney Preet Bharara’s statement defending the arrest and strip-search of Dr. Khobragade.
However Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin provided a detailed rebuttal. There were no courtesies in the treatment meted out to the diplomat, ``under the normal definition of that word in the English language’’ and Mr. Bharara's remarks about equality before the law of both the rich and the poor was 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, said Mr. Akbaruddin.
Mr. Akbaruddin also took on the US attorney for admitting the maid’s family was evacuated from India even though legal processes were underway in New Delhi. ``It invites speculation about why it was necessary to evacuate the family of Ms. Richard and about the action purportedly being taken against them?’’ he sought to know while questioning the right of a foreign government to evacuate Indian citizens from India while cases are pending against them in the Indian legal system.
On the contrary, suggested Mr. Akbaruddin, when there is a prior legal process already underway in India, Mr. Bharara should have enabled justice to take its course in India. ``When the legal process in another friendly and democratic country is interfered with in this manner, it not only amounts to interference but also raises the serious concern of calling into question the very legal system of that country,’’ he said while terming the US Attorney’s statement as ``one more attempt at a post facto rationalization for an action that should never have taken place in the first instance.’’ (
Details of arrest sought
“I have sought details of what happened in the case of the diplomat,” Mr. Khurshid said, asserting that the matter should not be pursued and be withdrawn.
“Our relationship has a lot of investment, it is not an irreversible matter and we have to deal with it sensibly,” the Minister said.
A 1999-batch IFS officer, Ms. Khobragade was arrested on December 12 on visa fraud charges as she was dropping her daughter to school and released on a $250,000 bond only after pleading not guilty in court.
The ill-treatment of the its diplomat evoked a sharp reaction from India which initiated a slew of steps to downgrade the privileges enjoyed by the U.S. diplomats and their families including withdrawing airport passes and stopping import clearances.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had on Wednesday described as “deplorable” the way the diplomat was treated in the U.S.
She has now been transferred to the Indian Mission to the UN to give her fuller diplomatic immunity.
In his first statement in Parliament on the issue, Mr. Khurshid had on Wednesday said that she was the victim of a “conspiracy” and that some people had “trapped” Ms. Khobragade, who was put through both strip and cavity searches, procedures normally used for criminals.
He had also said that India will intervene “effectively and specifically” to ensure the return and restoration of dignity of its Deputy Consul General as it a matter of the country’s prestige and honour.
There is a strong demand that Ms. Khobragade should be released unconditionally and all the charges against her should be dropped.