NEW DELHI: In his zeal to net the big fish, US attorney Preet Bharara may have single-handedly endangered Indo-US relations. As it now turns out, diplomat Devyani Khobragade was accredited as an advisor to the Permanent Mission of India to the UN, allowing her full immunity from personal arrest or detention, when she was picked up from her children's school by US authorities in early December.
Government sources said Khobragade was accredited advisor to the Indian mission to the UN on August 26, 2013 — to help the mission with work related to the General Assembly — and her accreditation was valid until December 31.
As sources here highlighted, the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations Article 4 Section 11A specifies "immunities from personal arrest or detention and from the seizure of their personal baggage" of all representatives of members to the United Nations.
Section 16 of the same Article specifies that the expression "Representative" shall be deemed to include all delegates, deputy delegates, advisors, technical experts and secretaries of delegations. She was accredited as advisor on August 26 and was transferred to the permanent mission after the arrest and is currently holding the position of counsellor.
Because she was attached to the permanent mission only temporarily (until December 31), the State Department was not required to issue its own identity card and it is possible that they may not have known about Khobragade's status. Sources said this was all the more reason for the State Department to have informed India about the move to arrest Khobragade. As the diplomat was working as acting consul general, the US ought to have notified India about her arrest under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The MEA joint secretary who handles the US, Vikram Doraiswamy, was in that country on the day Khobragade was arrested, but he wasn't informed about it.
The alacrity with which the US "evacuated" Khobragade's domestic help Sangeeta Richard's family, days before the diplomat's arrest, rattled New Delhi. Bharara later justified this in a statement saying the Justice Department was "compelled" to make sure that victim, witnesses and their families "are safe and secure while cases are pending". As the case now unravels fast, several US officials, especially those who handled Khobragade's arrest, may have opened themselves to claims for damages and liability.
The government has also discovered that the amount of $4,500 quoted by Bharara as salary promised to Sangeeta by Khobragade was actually just a mention of the employer's salary on the help's visa application form.