UK & World News

  • 18 December 2013, 22:28

India Diplomat 'Repeatedly Stripped' In US

A female Indian diplomat whose apparent heavy-handed treatment by US authorities sparked a major row has said she suffered "repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches".

Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, said she "broke down many times" during her alleged ordeal where she was held alongside "common criminals and drug addicts".

The 39-year-old diplomat claimed the "indignities" all took place despite her insisting to her jailersafter her arrest she had diplomatic immunity.

She was detained while dropping her daughter at school last week, for allegedly underpaying her housekeeper and committing visa fraud to get her into the US.

The US Marshals Service said Ms Khobragadewas subjected to the same booking procedures as other prisoners, including being strip searched - viewed in India as the most disturbing part of the arrest - and locked up with other female defendants.

Ms Khobragade "was placed in the available and appropriate cell," a statement by the service said. "Absent a special risk or separation order, prisoners are typically placed in general population," it added.

India's national security adviser Shivshankar Menon has called her treatment - during a 48-hour detention - "despicable and barbaric".

US Secretaryof State John Kerrycalled Mr Menonto express regret over the "unfortunate" incident, a State Department official said on Wednesday.

The department issued a statement, saying Mr Kerry"understands very deeply the importance of enforcing our laws and protecting victims", but added it was "particularlyimportant that foreigndiplomats serving in the United States are accorded respect and dignity just as we expect our own diplomats should receive overseas".

Ms Khobragadereportedly was transferred to India's UN mission in New York to give her full diplomatic immunity.

Venkatasamy Perumal, a former colleague at the Indian consulate in New York, confirmed Ms Khobragade had been moved but declined to comment further.

Earlier, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harfadmitted the arrest was a "sensitive issue" but insisted it was a "separate and isolated incident" which should not be allowed to affect broader ties.

Ms Harfhad added that as a consular official, MsKhobragadedid not have full diplomatic immunity but had consular immunity applicable only to her professional duties.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the diplomat's treatment as "deplorable" and New Delhi retaliated against American diplomats as the row escalated.

The government ordered the return of identity cards for US consular officials that speed up travel into and through India.

Import licences for the US embassy will also be stopped, while New Delhi police used two trucks and bulldozers to remove concrete security barricades from in front of the American embassy.

The barriers were a safety measure but India said they clogged up traffic.

India is trying to get the woman home as one official said she would have to report to police in New York every week.

Prosecutors allege Ms Khobragade claimed her housekeeper's wage was $4,500 (2,763) per month but she actually paid her less than $3 (1.84) per hour.

The accused has pleaded not guilty and plans to challenge the arrest on grounds of diplomatic immunity, her lawyer said.

If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of 10 years for visa fraud and five years for making a false declaration.

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