US to withdraw diplomat at India's request

Updated: 2014-01-11 10:19


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US to withdraw diplomat at India's request

Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade gives the "namaste" gesture of greeting upon her arrival at Maharashtra Sadan state guesthouse in New Delhi January 10, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON/NEW DELHI  - The United States said on Friday it would withdraw one of its diplomats from New Delhi at India's request after Washington effectively expelled an Indian envoy at the center of a dispute between the allies.

Devyani Khobragade, 39, who was India's deputy consul-general in New York, was arrested in December on charges of visa fraud and lying to US authorities about what she paid her housekeeper. Khobragade's arrest and strip-search provoked protests in India and dealt a serious blow to US efforts to strengthen ties.

An indictment announced by US prosecutors on Thursday accused Khobragade of making her Indian housekeeper and nanny, Sangeeta Richard, work 100-hour, seven-day weeks for a salary of little more than $1 an hour and refusing her sick days and holidays. The legal minimum US wage is $7.25 an hour.

Khobragade, who has denied the charges, arrived in New Delhi on Friday night and was met by her father, Uttam Khobragade. "I want to thank my nation for the support they have given me," she said.

Shortly after Khobragade's return home, the US State Department in Washington said it would recall a US diplomat, whom it did not identify, at India's request.

"This has clearly been a challenging time in the US-India relationship," department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "We expect and hope that this will now come to closure and the Indians will take significant steps with us to improve our relationship and return it to a more constructive place."

The continued presence in the United States of the housekeeper could pose a challenge to Washington as it seeks to repair its relationship with New Delhi, an important US ally in Asia. India has asked US authorities to arrest Richard over the Indian government's allegations that she stole cash, a mobile phone and documents from Khobragade. Richard has denied the charges.

The United States has so far rebuffed those requests and further enraged India by spiriting Richard's family out of India for safety reasons. Psaki declined to comment on Richard's status, citing privacy reasons.

David Beasley, a spokesman for Safe Horizon organization that has provided Richard with legal representation, said that she and her family have been granted what is known as "continued presence" immigration status. It is available to victims of human trafficking who may serve as potential witnesses in a criminal case, allowing them to live and work legally for up to a year and can be renewed in one-year increments.

The monthlong dispute set off reprisals against American diplomats in New Delhi and led to the postponement of visits to India by US officials and another by a US business delegation.

India removed some security barriers near the US Embassy and reduced the number of embassy staff with diplomatic immunity. On Wednesday, it ordered the embassy to close a club frequented by American expatriates and other foreign residents.

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