NEW YORK (AFP) ― An Indian diplomat whose arrest in New York sparked an intense row was leaving the U.S. Thursday as she was hit with federal charges over treatment of her servant, officials said.
After weeks of escalating tensions between the usually friendly countries, the U.S. and India reached an agreement under which diplomat Devyani Khobragade leaves the country but still faces charges if she returns.
Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, informed a judge that a grand jury had filed two counts of visa fraud and making false statements against Khobragade but said there would be no need to arraign her before a court due to her absence.
“We understand that the defendant was very recently accorded diplomatic immunity status and that she departed the United States today,” Bharara told the judge.
Bharara’s office later clarified that Khobragade was leaving the United States as part of an agreement but that she had not yet departed by Thursday afternoon.
A U.S. government official said the United States agreed to Indian requests to switch the accreditation of Khobragade, the deputy consul general in New York, to the United Nations to give her greater immunity.
U.N. accreditation is “typically only denied when there’s a national security risk. So that’s not obviously the case here,” the official told AFP.
Khobragade’s arrest on December 12 spurred outrage in India, especially when it was revealed she was strip-searched. The incident sent once warming relations between the world’s two largest democracies into freefall.
India said that the arrest breached norms and retaliated by removing security barriers outside the U.S. embassy first placed after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
India also cut back perks for U.S. diplomats, and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz postponed a visit due next week to India.