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Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade today won dismissal of the indictment against her for visa fraud, with a US judge ruling she had full diplomatic immunity although prosecutors are not barred from bringing new charges in future.
District Judge Shira Scheindlin said in her 14-page order that "it is undisputed" that Khobragade acquired full diplomatic immunity at 5:47 pm on January 8 after the US State Department approved her accreditation as a counselor to India's mission to the United Nations.
While the indictment was returned on January 9, Khobragade had the immunity till she departed from the US for India on the evening of January 9 and so the prosecutors cannot proceed with the current indictment.
"Khobragade's motion to dismiss the indictment on the ground of diplomatic immunity is granted. Khobragade's conditions of bail are terminated, and her bond is exonerated. It is ordered that any open arrest warrants based on this indictment must be vacated," Scheindlin said in her 14-page order, capping months of unprecedented diplomatic tensions between the US and India.
"On January 9, immediately following the return of the indictment, Khobragade appeared before the court through counsel and moved to dismiss the case. Because the court lacked jurisdiction over her at that time, and at the time the indictment was returned, the motion must be granted," the judge said ordering that the motion and the case be closed.
US Attorney Preet Bharara's office had argued that Khobragade, 39, was not immune from her December 12 arrest on charges of visa fraud and making false statements about the visa application of her domestic help Sangeeta Richard.
Bharara had said that the indictment should not be dismissed since Khobragade did not employ her domestic worker Richard in her capacity as Deputy Consul General and so does not enjoy immunity from prosecution for the "crimes" for which she was arrested in December.
Reacting to the order, Bharara's office said the judge has not barred them from going ahead with a new indictment against Khobragade, who now no longer enjoys diplomatic immunity in the US following her departure to India, and will "proceed accordingly" with any fresh indictment.
Scheindlin said that "even if Khobragade had no immunity at the time of her arrest and has none now, her acquisition of immunity during the pendency of proceedings mandates dismissal."
She ruled that the government "may not proceed on an indictment obtained when Khobragade was