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April 21, 2014

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Indian diplomat indicted in NY, leaves US

NEW YORK — An Indian diplomat accused of lying about how much she paid her housekeeper was indicted Thursday on two criminal charges, though prosecutors told a judge that she had been granted diplomatic immunity and left the country earlier in the day.

Devyani Khobragade was charged by a federal grand jury in Manhattan with visa fraud and making false statements in a case that has triggered an outcry in India. She's accused of fraudulently obtaining a work visa for her New York City housekeeper.

The indictment said Khobragade had made or multiple false representations to U.S. authorities, or caused them to be made, to obtain a visa for a personal domestic worker. She planned to bring to worker the United States in September 2012 when she worked at the Consulate General of India in New York, according to the indictment.

Khobragade, 39, India's deputy consul general in New York, has maintained her innocence to accusations that she claimed to pay her Indian maid $4,500 per month but actually gave her far less than the U.S. minimum wage. Her arrest last month sparked outrage in India after revelations that she was strip-searched and thrown in a cell with other criminal defendants before being released on $250,000 bail.

A lawyer for Khobragade did not immediately return a message for comment.

In a letter to the judge, prosecutors said there was no need for an arraignment because Khobragade had "very recently" been given diplomatic immunity status and left the United States on Thursday.

The letter said the charges will remain pending until she can be brought to court to face them, either through a waiver of immunity or her return to the U.S. without immunity status.

"We will alert the court promptly if we learn that the defendant returns to the United States in a non-immune capacity, at which time the government will proceed to prosecute this case and prove the charges in the indictment," the letter from the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

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