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Charges against Indian diplomat who was strip searched dismissed

By Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley, CNN
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: India welcomes the ruling
  • Devyani Khobragade was accused of lying on a visa application
  • That search sparked outrage in India, with officials there demanding an apology
  • Khobragade had diplomatic immunity, so the charges can't stand, judge finds

New York (CNN) -- The Indian diplomat whose arrest sparked a testy exchange between the United States and India won a dismissal of a federal indictment Monday, according to court documents.

Devyani Khobragade was arrested and strip searched by federal agents in New York City in December after federal authorities accused Khobragade of lying on a visa application about how much she paid her housekeeper. She was indicted on January 9 by a federal grand jury on one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements.

Khobragade then filed a motion to dismiss the charges, claiming she was "cloaked in diplomatic immunity at the time of her arrest," according to the motion.

The court agreed, stating that Khobragade was "appointed a Counselor to the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations, a position that cloaked her with full diplomatic immunity," according to court documents. She was appointed to that position on January 8, a day before she was indicted.

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"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," U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote.

"The government may not proceed on an indictment obtained when Khobragade was immune from the jurisdiction of the court," Scheindlin continued.

Khobragade's attorney, Daniel Arshack, said in a statement that Khobragade is pleased that "the rule of law has prevailed."

"We are heartened that the court agreed with our legal analysis and rejected the prosecution's arguments by dismissing the case," he said.

India's external affairs spokesman, Syed Akbaruddin, issued a statement welcoming the ruling.

James Margolin, spokesman for the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, did not rule out the possibility of further charges.

"As the court indicated in its decision, and as Devyani Khobragade has conceded, there is currently no bar to a new indictment against her for her alleged criminal conduct, and we intend to proceed accordingly," he said in a statement.

Khobragade, who left the United States in January, is now working for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi.

Her case drew international attention, with Indian officials demanding apologies from Washington, and the United States announcing it would withdraw one official from its embassy in New Delhi.

READ: Was her arrest, strip-search 'barbaric'?

READ: Opinion: Did India overreact to diplomat's arrest?

CNN's Allison Malloy in New York and Harmeet Singh in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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