(This article is part of TIMES EXPRESS. It is a condensed version of a story that will appear in tomorrow’s New York Times.);
By GERRY MULLANY
© 2013 New York Times News Service
NEW YORK - Indian officials said Saturday that they had transferred a diplomat who is facing charges in the United States to a job with India’s United Nations delegation, a position that could protect her from allegations that she was underpaying a housekeeper.
The diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, 39, the deputy consul general in New York, has been at the center of a heated battle between the United States and India since she was accused of submitting false documents to obtain a work visa for the housekeeper. Indian officials have complained about what they consider humiliating treatment after Khobragade was arrested as she left her daughter at school and later strip-searched by the authorities.
The Indian ambassador to the United Nations, Asoke Mukerji , wrote to Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, telling him of Khobragade’s transfer.
Khobragade was arrested Dec. 12 and released on $250,000 bail. She pleaded not guilty to charges of visa fraud and making false statements about how much she paid her housekeeper, who is also Indian.
A position with the United Nations would afford Khobragade more diplomatic protection from prosecution in the United States, although it was unclear whether the State Department would approve her transfer.
The decision to move Khobragade to the U.N. post came after U.S. officials vigorously defended their handling of the matter amid criticism from Indian politicians and in its news media. Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Wednesday that Khobragade “clearly tried to evade U.S. law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers.”
He also said Khobragade was discreetly detained and afforded courtesies “beyond” those accorded U.S. citizens. He added that although she was “fully searched,” it was done by a female deputy marshal in a private setting, the standard procedure.
Bharara said India’s focus on Khobragade’s plight obscured the treatment of the alleged victim in the case. Prosecutors say that the diplomat forced the housekeeper to work longer hours than agreed to, and that she was paid far less than the minimum wage.
Mukerji, the ambassador, said Khobragade’s new position would give her protection from arrest.
“We have welcomed her into our team here at the U.N.,” he said. “As soon as she is accredited, we hope she will be able to discharge her responsibilities.”