US prosecutors challenge Khobragade’s immunity plea

US prosecutors challenge Khobragade’s immunity plea

devyani1Amid efforts to repair frayed India-US relations after a major diplomatic row over the arrest of Devyani Khobragade on charges of visa fraud, US prosecutors have challenged the Indian diplomat’s claims of immunity.

Khobragade is not immune from prosecution on charges of visa fraud and making false statements, Indian-American US prosecutor Preet Bharara’s office argued in filings in a federal court Friday opposing Khobragade’s plea.

Having left the US and returned to India “the defendant currently has no diplomatic or consular status in the United States”, prosecutors argued, “and the consular level immunity that she did have at the relevant time does not give her immunity for the charges in this case, crimes arising out of non-official acts”.

In support of its argument, Bharara’s office cited a declaration by the State Department saying that federal authorities were not wrong in arresting and detaining Khobragade Dec 12 as she did not have full diplomatic immunity in her capacity as India’s then deputy consul general in New York.

The State Department also determined that her immunity in connection with her short-lived stint at the Indian mission to the UN Jan 8-9 before she was asked to leave the US “is no bar to prosecution”.

“From the time of her departure from the US Jan 9 through the present, Khobragade enjoys residual diplomatic immunity only for acts she performed in the exercise of her functions as a member of the mission Jan 8-9,” prosecutors argued.

Prosecutors also argued that Khobragade’s indictment charges offences are based on her private conduct and not her official conduct.

“Her domestic worker was not an employee of the Consulate General of India and did not perform work related to consular functions,” they said.

In court papers, Khobragade’s lawyer Daniel Arshack said that diplomatic immunity granted to her by the US State Department gave her absolute immunity from US prosecution, even for suspected acts committed earlier.

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