* India formally asks for change in diplomat's U.N. status
* State Department: U.S. wants to "move beyond" the dispute
* Diplomat accused of visa fraud, underpaying housekeeper
* Protesters ransack Domino's Pizza in India
By Jonathan Allen and Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, Dec 20 India asked the United Nations
on Friday to accredit a New York-based diplomat who was arrested
for visa fraud, in an apparent attempt to defuse a crisis with
the United States over her treatment by U.S. authorities who
strip searched her.
A U.N. spokesman said the organization had received an
official request from New Delhi to accredit Devyani Khobragade
as a member of India's permanent U.N. mission in what seemed to
be a move to give her a stronger form of diplomatic immunity.
Khobragade's arrest has enraged India, which is demanding
that all charges be dropped against her. Indian protesters
ransacked a Domino's Pizza in a Mumbai suburb in anger
at her detention this month for visa fraud and underpayment of
She was strip searched at a U.S. District Court building in
downtown Manhattan and placed in a holding cell. As India's
deputy consul general in New York, she only had limited
diplomatic immunity from prosecution.
Indian media said the request to transfer her to the United
Nations was aimed at ending the stand-off with the United States
in the hopes that Khobragade's new diplomatic status could allow
New Delhi to bring her home without facing charges.
Diplomatic sources said that broader immunity could make it
harder to follow through on a prosecution against her.
One possible scenario to solve the crisis would be that she
receives full diplomatic immunity in her U.N. post if the State
Department approves her transfer. The U.S. government would then
ask for her immunity to be removed so she can face prosecution.
Assuming India refused, the State Department could then take
steps to have her removed from the country.
In a similar recent case, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who
is prosecuting the envoy, charged dozens of Russian diplomats
with healthcare fraud.
Unlike in Khobragade's case, there was no dispute that they
were immune from prosecution, but Bharara acknowledged this
month the State Department could seek to remove those who
remained in the country.
U.S. WANTS TO MOVE ON
The State Department said on Friday it wanted to move beyond
the matter of the Indian diplomat.
"We certainly fully agree that it's important to preserve
and protect our partnership. It's not just about diplomatic
ties," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters,
citing more than $90 billion in bilateral trade, close
counterterrorism cooperation and engagement on a range of topics
"And we want to move beyond this, and I think we all
recognise the importance of our long-term relationship," she
Asked whether a change in her diplomatic immunity status
could prevent Khobragade from being arrested again or enable her
to leave the United States, Psaki said, "I don't want to
speculate on that."
She said any change in the diplomat's accreditation status
would not provide a "clean slate from past charges."
Khobragade was arrested last week and released on $250,000
bail after giving up her passport and pleading not guilty to
charges of visa fraud and making false statements about how much
she paid her housekeeper, also an Indian. She faces a maximum of
15 years in prison if convicted of both counts.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed regret over the
case in a phone call to India's national security adviser this
week, but India is still demanding an apology. U.S. prosecutors
have defended the investigation against Khobragade and her
treatment. Before this diplomatic blow-up, U.S.-Indian relations
were seen as cordial and improving.
Police in Mumbai said they were stepping up patrols of major
U.S. outlets including McDonald's after workers of the
small Republican Party of India attacked the Domino's store. The
group sent pictures to media organisations showing a broken
glass door. No one was hurt in the attack.
The Indian diplomat's father threatened to begin a fast if
U.S. authorities press ahead with the case. In an unusual move,
the United States has flown the family of the housekeeper,
Sangeeta Richard, out of India.
"The fact is that (the) American authorities have behaved
atrociously with an Indian diplomat. And obviously, America has
to make good for its actions," said Manish Tiwari, India's
minister for information and broadcasting.
"So therefore, I think it is a legitimate expectation, that
if they have erred, and they have erred grievously in this
matter, they should come forth and apologise."
Protesters also gathered at the U.S. consulate in Hyderabad
for a second day on Friday, shouting slogans, local media said.
In New York, a few dozen protesters including several
domestic workers from South and Southeast Asia gathered outside
India's consulate, chanting slogans and waving posters demanding
that Khobragade's diplomatic immunity be waived.
"Passports revoked, slave wages, restricted communication -
this constitutes trafficking workers," said Leah Obias, an
organiser with the migrant-workers rights group Damayan. "There
are diplomats trafficking workers all over the city and we
U.S. Attorney Bharara said on Wednesday Richard's family had
been brought to the United States after legal efforts had begun
in India "to silence her, and attempts were made to compel her
to return to India."
Furious that one of its foreign service officers had been
handcuffed and treated like "a common criminal," India this week
removed security barriers outside the U.S. embassy in New Delhi
and withdrew some privileges from U.S. diplomats.
The reaction in India was even more intense because none of
the political parties preparing for next year's general election
wanted to be seen as weak against a superpower.
Politicians, including the leaders of the two main parties,
refused to meet a delegation of visiting U.S. lawmakers.
"Because of the election, they will try to outdo each
other," said Neerja Chowdhury, a political analyst and a former
political editor of Indian Express newspaper.
"They don't want to be seen as weak on the issue when the
mood in the country is one of huge anger about this."
The party that runs India's most populous state, Uttar
Pradesh, urged Khobragade to stand for parliament, highlighting
how public outrage has turned the case into a battleground for