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Judge Dismisses Charges Against Indian Diplomat

A federal judge has dismissed charges against an Indian deputy consul-general whose New York City arrest and strip-search set off a diplomatic spat that strained relations between the United States and India.

A ruling filed Wednesday concluded that Devyani Khobragade had diplomatic immunity — and therefore could not be prosecuted — when she was charged in December with submitting false documents to get a work visa for her Manhattan housekeeper and making false statements about that housekeeper's compensation.

Prosecutors had alleged that Khobragade paid the maid, an Indian national, around $3 per hour.

After being indicted, Khobragade followed a State Department order to leave the country. The Indian government, in turn, then asked Washington to remove a diplomat from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. The State Department complied — but tensions flared.

The ruling Wednesday by Judge Shira Scheindlin, however, doesn't close the door on a new indictment against Khobragade.

The prosecution is able to pursue a new indictment now or in the future since Khobragade no longer possesses diplomatic status or immunity, the ruling said.

Daniel Arshack, Khobragade's lawyer, said he and his client "are heartened that the court agreed with our legal analysis and rejected the prosecution's arguments by dismissing the case."

Although prosecutors are free to re-indict her, "the decision to do so might well be viewed as an aggressive and unnecessary act," according to Arshack.

"This current circumstance might well present the best opportunity for a lasting and final diplomatic resolution," he added.

But a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan seemed to suggest that they would indeed seek a new indictment.

"As the court indicated in its decision, and as Devyani Khobragade has conceded, there is currently no bar to a new indictment against her for her alleged criminal conduct, and we intend to proceed accordingly," James Margolin, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan, told the AP.

— Daniel Arkin

Image: File of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade gestures upon her arrival at Maharashtra Sadan state guesthouse in New Delhi
Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade gestures upon her arrival at Maharashtra Sadan state guesthouse in New Delhi in this January 10 file photo. STRINGER / Reuters