UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations has approved a request from India to accredit a New York-based diplomat at the center of a dispute after her arrest by US authorities on criminal charges including visa fraud, a UN official said on Monday.
Indian media said the request to transfer Devyani Khobragade, who was deputy consul-general in New York, to the United Nations was aimed at ending the stand-off with the United States in the hopes that her new diplomatic status could allow New Delhi to bring her home without the prosecution proceeding.
“The UN has processed the request to register Ms. Khobragade as a member of the Permanent Mission of India to the UN,” a UN source said on condition of anonymity. “However, the final stop in the process is the US (State Department).”
US officials were not immediately available for comment.
Khobragade's arrest on Dec. 12 has enraged India, which is demanding that all charges be dropped against her. On the day of her arrest, she was strip searched. The arresting authority, the US Marshals Service, said Khobragade's strip search was a routine procedure imposed on any new arrestee at the federal courthouse.
Khobragade pleaded not guilty to charges of visa fraud and making false statements about how much she paid her housekeeper.
She was released on $250,000 bail.
As India's deputy consul general in New York, she had only limited diplomatic immunity from prosecution.
Diplomatic sources said that the broader immunity Khobragade would receive as a UN-accredited diplomat could make it harder to follow through on a prosecution against her.
One possible scenario to solve the crisis would be that she receives full diplomatic immunity in her UN post if the State Department approves her transfer. The US government would then ask for her immunity to be removed so she can face prosecution. Assuming India refused, the State Department could then take steps to have her removed from the country.
Asoke Mukerji, India's ambassador to the United Nations, wrote last week to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon informing him of the 39-year-old diplomat's planned transfer to the UN mission from the Indian consulate.
In an unusual move, the United States has flown the family of the housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard, out of India. Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara has said attempts were made in India to “silence” Richard and compel her to return home.
A spokeswoman for Bharara declined to comment on Monday on the UN approval of Khobragade's transfer to the UN mission.