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US court dismisses Devyani Khobragade's indictment in visa fraud case

New York: In a major relief to Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, a US court has granted her motion to dismiss her indictment on visa fraud charges, saying she had full diplomatic immunity when the charge was returned against her on January 9.

In a 14-page order, US District Judge Shira Scheindlin said it is "undisputed" that Khobragade acquired full diplomatic immunity from the State Department at 5:47 pm on January 8.

The judge said Khobragade did not lose that immunity until her departure for India on January 9. "Even if Khobragade had no immunity at the time of her arrest and has none now, her acquisition of immunity during the pendency of proceedings mandates dismissal," the judge said.

Diplomat Devyani Khobragade
Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade

The judge added that on January 9, immediately following the return of the indictment, Khobragade had appeared before the court and appealed for dismissal of the case.

"Because the Court lacked jurisdiction over her at that time, and at the time the indictment was returned, the motion must be granted," the order said.

"Khobragade's motion to dismiss the indictment on the ground of diplomatic immunity is granted. Khobragade's conditions of bail are terminated, and her bond is exonerated. It is ordered that any open arrest warrants based on this indictment must be vacated," the judge said.

The judge said Khobragade served as a consular officer in the US from October 26, 2012 through January 8, 2014, a position that "cloaked her with consular immunity" as per the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Khobragade contended that she had additionally obtained diplomatic immunity on August 26, 2013 by virtue of her appointment as a Special Advisor to the United Nations, and such immunity continued through at least December 31, 2013.

The US government had argued that the indictment should not be dismissed because Khobragade did not have diplomatic immunity at the time of her arrest, and has no immunity at the present time.

In support its claim, the government had submitted a declaration from Steven Kerr, Attorney-Advisor in the Office of the Legal Advisor of the United States Department of State, which said Khobragade "did not enjoy immunity from arrest or detention at the time of her arrest in this case, and she does not presently enjoy immunity from prosecution for the crimes charged in the indictment".

Khobragade (39) was arrested on December 12 on visa fraud charges and for making false statements regarding the visa application of her domestic help Sangeeta Richard.

She was strip-searched and held with criminals, triggering a row between the two countries with India retaliating by downgrading privileges of certain category of US diplomats among other steps.

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