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Indicted Indian diplomat to leave US

The United States says it has "requested the departure" of the Indian diplomat whose arrest in New York caused a major rift. India protested last month on news that Devyani Khobragade was strip-searched by US officials.

A lawyer for an Indian woman diplomat at the center of a row between Washington and New Delhi said Thursday said she was planning to return to India under a deal granting her immunity from visa fraud charges.

Daniel Arshack said Khobragade had done "no wrong." US authorities accuse her of fraudulently obtaining a work visa for her Indian housekeeper in New York.

"As a result of her diplomatic status having been recognized, the federal court today recognized Dr. Khobragade's right to travel and she is pleased to be returning to her country," Arshack said.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin subsequently issued a short message, saying "she is now flying home."

"Devyani Khobragade given G1 visa by USA according her full diplomatic immunity. India transfers her back."

Diplomatic wrangle

The planned departure follows her indictment by a grand jury in York.

US officials said India had sought accreditation at the United Nations for Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, to give her broader immunity.

Washington had then asked India to waive that immunity to enable prosecution. India had denied that request, leading Washington to ask for her departure.

US attorney for the southern district of New York, Preet Bharara told a federal judge that US authorities understood that "the defendant was very recently accorded diplomatic immunity status and that she departed the United States today."

Khobragade's lawyer Ashack later issued a statement, saying his client had still been at [her New York] home with her children.

India curtails privileges

Since last month, India has curtailed privileges offered to US diplomats and expatriate Americans in New Delhi in anger of Khobragade's treatment on arrest.

US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz postponed a visit due next week to India.

When arrested on December 12 Khobragade was allegedly stripped-searched by police and thrown into a cell with other criminal defendants before being released on bail.

'Defining partnership'

The case has exposed strains in US-India diplomatic and trade relations which President Obama had billed in 2010 as a "defining partnership," with India seen a strategic counterbalance to China in Asia.

The president of the US-India Business Council, Ron Somers, on Thursday said "bumbling on both sides" was to blame for the Khobragade affair.

US Secretary of State John Kerry voiced regret over Khobragade's treatment. Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid vowed not to stop until he restored the "dignity" of Khobragade.

ipj/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP)