New Delhi: The US State Department has made it clear that Indian Deputy Counsel General Devyani Khobragade does not enjoy immunity from US laws. A state department spokesperson has said that the Vienna convention allows for immunity only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.
The statement comes hours after India summoned US Ambassador Nancy Powell and expressed shock over the arrest of Devyani for alleged visa fraud and under-payment of wages to her domestic help.
The US State Department said, "Under the Vienna convention on consular relations, the Indian Deputy Consul General enjoys immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions."
In a major diplomatic embarrassment to India, 39-year-old Devyani, a 1999-batch IFS officer, was taken into custody on Thursday as she was dropping her daughter to school and handcuffed in public on visa fraud charges before being released on a USD 250,000 bond after pleading not guilty.
"We are handling this incident through law enforcement channels. We have a long-standing partnership with India, and we expect that that partnership will continue," US State Department spokesperson said.
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said that India would take up the matter forcefully with the US government and has voiced the sentiment already through the Indian embassy in Washington.
"We will take this up and discuss bilaterally, different people can have diffrent interpretations, but that does not mean that you can humiliate a young mother of two small children publically," added Akbaruddin.
However, according to New York attorney Preet Bharara's office, Khobragade had hired a babysitter cum housekeeper from Mumbai, offering her only Rs 30,000 per month or about $3.31 per hour, but filed a contract that she'd be paid the legally mandated minimum of $9.75. She faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
After the arrest, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal discussed the matter with the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian Embassy. "It was emphasised that Devyani Khobragade is a diplomat, who is in the US in pursuance of her duties and hence is entitled to the courtesy due to a diplomat in the country of her work," the embassy statement said.
"She is also a young mother of two small children. Government of India is shocked and appalled at the manner in which she has been humiliated by the US authorities," it added.
Khobragade's attorneys emphasised that she has diplomatic immunity, whereas the federal law enforcement authorities have argued that her alleged visa fraud is not covered under the Vienna Convention.
Eminent Indian-American attorney Ravi Batra said in the absence of a category for diplomatic foreign domestic workers, which exempts them from US labour laws, including, wages and hours, American laws must be followed to avoid both criminal and civil liability.
"Foreign nations who pay their workers at or near US labour rates are free from this risk. However, of 194 countries, most nations are below US-mandated hours and wage standards, and to this later group's diplomatic corps - they remain at high risk to be in the cross-hairs of illegality and reputation-suicide," Batra said.
(With additional information from PTI)