US Judge Drops Charges Against Indian Diplomat in Housekeeper Scandal

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 12 2014 8:33 PM

US Judge Rules Indian Diplomat is Immune from Visa Fraud, Wage Theft Charges

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Members of The All India Students Federation (AISF) shout slogans and wave placards during a protest in front of the US consulate in Hyderabad on December 19, 2013, following the arrest of New York-based Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade.

Photo by STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

The diplomatic spat between India and the United States over the arrest and indictment of an Indian diplomat for visa fraud and lying about how much she paid her housekeeper took a new and complicated turn today. Charges against Devyani Khobragade were dismissed by a U.S. district judge who ruled she had diplomatic immunity when she was indicted on January 9 by federal prosecutors.

The court's decision hinges on the various levels of legal protection for foreign diplomats. Khobragade, a consular officer when she was initially arrested, may have lacked the legal status to escape the charge. However, a day before she was indicted, her position was elevated to counselor to India’s Mission to the United Nations, a role that gave her broader protection. Since the indictment, Khobragade has left the U.S. thereby terminating her immunity, but complicating the case for U.S. prosecutors.

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Yet the ruling did leave open the possibility of a fresh indictment, and according to Reuters, prosecutors “intend to proceed accordingly.” And so the squabble continues.

For those who need a refresher: The dispute started when Khobragade allegedly lied about the amount she paid her Indian housekeeper to secure a work permit for the woman in the U.S. Khobragade reported her maid took in $4,500 per month, but prosecutors say she actually paid the woman less than $3 per hour, well below minimum wage. Khobragade was arrested and strip-searched, setting off a diplomatic tit-for-tat between India and the U.S. that looks like it will continue on, for now.