India on Friday expelled a senior American diplomat within hours of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade being asked to leave the United States. Khobragade had been indicted and arrested in a visa fraud case nearly a month ago, triggering strong reaction from the Indian government.
The unnamed director-rank American diplomat based in New Delhi was given "a little more than 48 hours" to leave India even as Khobragade was on her way home from New York, where the US government finally approved her accreditation to the United Nations which gave her full diplomatic immunity as against partial immunity at the time of her arrest on December 12 when she was deputy consul general there.
India's tit-for-tat action is only the second instance of a US diplomat being expelled, the first instance being expulsion of George Griffin, then political counsellor, 33 years ago. That was in retaliation against similar action being taken by the US against Prabhakar Menon, an Indian diplomat.
Refraining from using the term "expulsion", official sources said here that the US Embassy has been asked to "withdraw" one of its diplomats of similar rank as that of Khobragade, which the government "have reasons to believe, is closely involved in the processes relating to this case and subsequent unilateral action by the US." However, the sources did not divulge the name of the American diplomat.
The diplomat was understood to be closely involved in the "evacuation" of the family of Khobragade's absconding maid Sangeeta Richard.
Earlier on Friday in New York, Khobragade was indicted for visa fraud and making false statements by a grand jury which held that the charges against her will remain with main prosecutor Preet Bharara saying, "There will not need to be an arraignment on the indictment scheduled at this time. We understand that the defendant was very recently accorded diplomatic immunity status.
"Therefore, the charges will remain pending until such time as she can be brought to Court to face the charges, either through a waiver of immunity or the defendant’s return to the United States in a non-immune status...”
It is understood that it was always the effort of the government to bring back Khobragade, who had surrendered her passport after the arrest and was out on a bail of $250,000, through G-1 visa route which would have given her full immunity.
The diplomat was strip searched and held with criminals, triggering a row between the two sides with India retaliating by downgrading privileges of certain category of US diplomats.