NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON, Jan 10 (IANS): Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade who was formally indicted by a US grand jury and asked to leave the US is on her way back home, nearly a month after her arrest and strip-search for alleged visa fraud.
India's external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said that "Devyani Khobragade has been given G1 visa with full diplomatic immunity Jan 8" and is on her way back to India.
Khobragade's handcuffing and strip-search Dec 12 for alleged visa fraud and underpaying her child's nanny Sangeeta Richard sparked protests in India. During the time of her arrest, Devyani was India's deputy consul general in New York.
On Thursday, the 39-year-old diplomat was formally indicted by a US grand jury.
However, prosecutors said that Khobragade was also granted immunity and that US officials have asked her to leave the country.
In a statement issued after the hearing, her lawyer Daniel Arshack said Khobragade "is pleased to be returning to her country. Her head is held high. She knows she has done no wrong and she looks forward to assuring that the truth is known".
Uttam Khobragade, her father, thanked the Indian government for his daughter's return.
"It is only because of the entire Indian government's effort, my daughter is returning to India with full diplomatic immunity," Uttam Khobragade told media persons.
"Our family has gone through a bad phase during this time and it will be a very important day for our entire family, as we will re-unite once again," he added.
The external affairs ministry in a statement said that "Khobragade, counsellor at the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York, was accorded Jan 8, 2014 the privileges and immunities of a diplomatic envoy...At the same time, the US government requested the government of India to waive the immunity of Counsellor Khobragade."
"On Jan 9, 2014, the government of India declined to do so and transferred Counsellor Khobragade to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi."
Khobragade reiterated her innocence on charges filed against her and "affirmed her gratitude to the government of India, in particular to External Affairs Minister (Salman Khurshid), and the people of India, as also the media, for their strong and sustained support during this period", the statement added.
"She also affirmed her determination to ensure that the episode would not leave a lasting impact on her family, in particular, her children, who are still in the United States," the statement said.
Arshack in a statement said Khobragade "denies the baseless charges brought by the prosecutor's office in New York and looks forward to providing the proof that over and over the investigators and prosecutors in this case have been sloppy and wrong. Khobragade did not make any false statements and she paid her domestic worker what she was entitled to be paid."
"Although the domestic (Sangeeta Richard) came to work here on a short-term contact which required her to return to India at the end of her employment, as a result of the false claims and shoddy investigation, she and her family now enjoy permanent residency in the US. The investigators in this case made serious errors as result of not fully investigating the facts. We look forward to providing the evidence of their blunders," the statement said.
He also said that he hoped those "who are interested in this case and in any criminal case will always look with deep scepticism at indictments which are sometimes poorly investigated, one-sided accounts that masquerade as facts. The indictment in this case is meaningless based as it is on a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts and documents."
India-born Manhattan Attorney Preet Bharara said the charges against Khobragade would remain pending until she can be brought to court to face them, either through a waiver of immunity or her return to the US without immunity status.
"We will alert the court promptly if we learn that the defendant returns to the United States in a non-immune capacity, at which time the government will proceed to prosecute this case and prove the charges in the indictment," he said in a letter to the court.
Sangeeta Richard in a statement Thursday said: "I never thought that things would get so bad here, that I would work so much that I did not have time to sleep or eat or have time to myself." The statement was released by anti-trafficking group Safe Horizon.
She tried to return to India because of how she'd been treated, she said, but her request was denied.
"I would like to tell other domestic workers who are suffering as I did - you have rights and do not let anyone exploit you," said Richard.
The handcuffing and strip-search of Khobragade led to widespread outrage in India. She has denied the charges of visa fraud and underpaying her maid. Delhi ordered a series of diplomatic reprisal measures against the US, and relations between the two countries have been strained over the case.