Ignorance of law is no excuse. And ignoring the law is also no excuse. What has now come to the fore in the case of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade is that she had full immunity at the time of her arrest on December 12. She should not have been arrested. But she was. And in blatant violation of Geneva Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. Article 4 Section 11A specifies “immunities from personal arrest or detention and from the seizure of their personal baggage” of all representatives of members to the United Nations.
At the time Devyani was arrested, she was an Advisor to the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations. And in that capacity she enjoyed full immunity. Section 16 of the same Article specifies that the expression “Representative” shall be deemed to include all delegates, deputy delegates, advisors, technical experts and secretaries of delegations. She was accredited as advisor on August 26 and was transferred to the permanent mission after the arrest and is currently holding the position of counselor. Will Preet Bharara who presided over the hauling up of the Indian diplomat now say he did not know the law or he will say he did not know Devyani was not only the Deputy Consul General at the Indian Consulate but also had a position with the UN? Your ignorance either way has cost the two friendly nations a lot. Yes, a lot.
What will you say now, Mr. Bharara? Will you own up and feel sorry? But that’s not going to help. Neither will it restore the wronged lady’s honor, nor it will assuage the hurt feelings of a nation and it will also not help restore the warmth of relationship and trust between two friendly countries. Again, another lapse on the part of prosecution has come to light. The amount of $4,500 quoted by Bharara as salary promised to Sangeeta by Khobragade was actually just a mention of the employer’s salary on the help’s visa application form. Here is how the flub could have occurred. Sangeeta Richard was required to submit a form DS-160, along with her visa application and a screenshot of the actual online application here. The application seeks the applicant’s work/education/training information. It asks for the present employer’s name and then asks for month salary in local currency. Who’s month salary? The obvious answer is the visa applicant’s monthly salary. But here is where Sangeeta Richard put in her employer Devyani Khobragade’s monthly salary, which is approximately $ 4500 per month, whereas she should have put in $ 1560 per month – the negotiated $ 9.95 per hour for a 40-hour work-week which works out to $ 390 per week x 4 weeks = $1560.
Devani’s attorney Daniel Arshack is right when he said, “It is clear that Mark Smith, the Diplomatic Security Services agent who handled the investigation and arrest of Dr Khobragade and who drew up and swore to the accuracy of the formal complaint in this case, simply made an error in reading the DS 160 form which supported the visa application for the domestic worker, Sangeeta Richard. He erroneously and disastrously believed that the $4,500/month salary entry on the form was Ms Richard’s expected salary when, in fact, it was clearly a reporting of the base salary to be earned by the employer, Dr Khobragade, in the United States”. Will Mark Smith be able to defend himself or Preet Bharara? The more vital question is: will the US administration be able to defend the incompetent prosecutors? Let us end the legal squabbles and try to get back the niceties lost because of the ignorant and erring prosecutors. I sincerely hope the saner elements on both the sides hear me.