Khobragade was accredited to the UN at time of arrest, had full diplomatic immunity, says India

New twist in the case makes her arrest even more bizarre.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: A potentially game-changing development in the Devyani Khobragade case came today when reports surfaced that the Deputy Consul General did, in fact, have diplomatic immunity at the time of her arrest on December 12, meaning that the US authorities may have been in the wrong by arresting her.

When Khobragade was originally stationed in New York City as a Deputy Consul General, she was also listed as an “Advisor to the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations,” an accreditation that dates August 26 of this year and is valid until December 31, 2013. That means that, as a member of the Permanent Mission, she was to be extended full diplomatic privileges, including immunity from being arrested.

As per the UN, any diplomat acting on behalf of the organization can claim immunity not only from arrest, but from any kind of legal prosecution. As it states in the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations: “Immunity from personal arrest or detention and from seizure of their personal baggage, and in respect of words spoken or written and all acts done by them in their capacity as representatives, immunity from legal process of every kind.”

India is apparently already speaking to the US Department of State regarding this development, but questions still linger. In particular, why was this only uncovered now, exactly two weeks after Khobragade was arrested? And will Khobragade still be fair game for the US to prosecute?

The Indian Embassy in Washington, DC did not return calls for comment on this story.

A separate report is now also insinuating Khobragade may be in the clear, saying that US officials who were supposed to carefully go over the paperwork regarding the salaries Khobragade and her maid, Sangeeta Richard, might have mixed the two up.

Khobragade’s lawyer, Mark Arshack, is saying that the Diplomatic Security Services officer in charge of reviewing the paperwork erroneously wrote down that Richard was supposed to be paid $4,500 per month, which is actually Khobragade’s base salary. The small clerical error is now the source of a diplomatic row between the US and India, with the former claiming that Khobragade severely underpaid the maid and should be prosecuted for having done so.

Arshack says he and his team uncovered the mix-up while poring over the documents involved in the case. The US has maintained that Khobragade was supposed to pay the maid at least $1,560 per month, or $9.75 an hour for a normal, 40-hour work week, in a month with four weeks. Instead, Richard was only paid $3.31 per hour.

Khobragade is currently out of jail on $250,000, and has maintained that she cannot be tried by the US because of her diplomatic stature. The US has repeatedly indicated that they plan to take Khobragade to court. Compounded with new allegations coming out every day, many are wondering if and when this tense situation will see a resolution.

To contact the author, email to deepakchitnis@americanbazaaronline.com

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