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Judge Dismisses Indictment Against Indian Diplomat

Anyone remember Devyani Khobragade, the former deputy consul general for political, economic, commercial, and women's affairs at the Indian Consulate General in NYC? She got in legal trouble for falsifying the special visa she used to import a domestic servant so that she could get away with paying her the sort of salary one might expect back in India. The plan kind of blew up in her face, though her arrest definitely blew up in the State Department's face and caused a HUGE diplomatic headache. The crazy part is that she could have easily afforded to pay the wages as promised. Her official salary is pretty low, but her family has money and connections, and her involvement in the Adarsh apartment scam shows that she's more than capable of supplementing her pay with corruption and graft. Her husband, professor of philosophy and international wine expert, also appears to be rolling in it as well.


Khobragade was a consular officer rather than a diplomat at the time of her arrest, so she wasn't subject to the blanket protections of full diplomatic immunity. The Indian government quickly transferred her to their permanent mission at the UN, so at that point she could no longer be put on trial or even held under arrest. She flew back to India immediately, still under indictment, leaving behind her husband and two young daughters, the three of them American citizens. This itself caused a mini scandal, because while Indian diplomats are allowed to marry foreign nationals, they then have to obtain Indian citizenship. Dual citizenship isn't recognized under Indian law, so the implication was that her family simply isn't interested in giving up their status as Americans. Further scandal is currently developing along with the discovery that her daughters, aged 4 and 7, have both Indian and US passports, which is totally impossible and completely illegal under Indian law. Reports from just a few weeks ago were that the whole family was planning to join her in New Delhi permanently, but the big news right now is that a Federal judge in New York just dismissed the indictment against her.

A lot of the Indian media's been pretty rabid about this case, so the typical sort of hyperbole represents it as "the most significant diplomatic, legal blow to the United States in recent times," but it seems like a pretty straightforward ruling of law to me. Khobragade's indictment came down January 9, but her appointment to the UN went through the day prior. Someone with diplomatic immunity can't be indicted, so the judge put the quash on it. However, Khobragade doesn't have immunity anymore because she left the country and is no longer a diplomat here, so the judge also wrote that "there is currently no bar to a new indictment against Khobragade." Will a new one be issued? Hard to say. If good old US Attorney Preet Bharara goes ahead with it the Indians will absolutely flip their lids, and what does it matter as long as she stays half a world away?

She might want to return to live with her family in the US, but she'd be taking a hell of a risk without some sort of assurance that she wouldn't be clapped in irons on arrival. I also can't see the State Department accepting her presence as a diplomat in any way, shape, or form. I do have a couple of observations, though. One is that this case really put the two-tiered system of justice in India in perspective for me. If you're poor, the police are free to beat you like an animal and treat you like dirt, but the rules simply don't apply to people with money and connections. Khobragade's history shows her repeatedly flouting the law without any sort of penalty, so it's no surprise that she didn't balk at a little visa fraud. My other observation is that Daniel Arshak, her lawyer in New York who's represented her from the beginning, is probably getting paid a lot more than 50 cents an hour for his work cleaning up the mess. Khobragade could have had an army of minimum wage scullery maids toiling away for a fraction of what this case has cost her already.

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