India And US Squabble Over Diplomatic Privileges

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Written By Mahmoud Sarvari

India And US Squabble Over Diplomatic PrivilegesExpats have been kicked out of leisure facilities at the US Embassy in New Delhi, India, as the governments row over diplomatic status in their nations.

The move follows the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York, accused of visa fraud and perjury.

The Indian government protested strongly about the arrest and subsequent inquiry that is ongoing.

Now, the Indian government has issued an order closing the American Community Support Association in New Delhi to non-diplomats.

The Indians claim expats who are not embassy staff or diplomats buy duty-free imports at the club while using the restaurant, bar and leisure facilities, which include a pool, beauty salon and gym.

Ban on expat club

The Indian Foreign Ministry served a notice on the club stating the commercial activities for non-diplomats violate international law and that a tax return accounting for them is expected by January 16.

“We have discovered that the association sold imported duty-free goods to private American citizens and their families. These non-diplomats have also used the beauty salon, video club, swimming pool and gym,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

“These facilities are only meant for diplomats. Extending them to non-diplomats is a commercial venture and taxes need paying in India.”

The US Embassy in New Delhi has declined to comment on the ban.

However, American missions and embassies worldwide have similar clubs for diplomats and often extend the facilities to expats.

The Indian diplomat, deputy consul general Devyani Khobragade, 39, was reportedly strip-searched and detained in a cell.

Strip search outrage

The action outraged the Indian government, which argues Khobragade is innocent of all charges.

Behind-the-scenes talks are underway to settle the dispute in New York and the action in Delhi is seen as an attempt by the Indians to pressure the US into an agreement to free Khobragade from the threat of court action.

Other measures against the US in India include a demonstration in support of Khobragade outside a mission in Mumbai. The government has also removed security barriers from outside the Delhi embassy and warned staff not to show movies without licences.

The likely outcome is both sides will want to keep their face, and diplomats widely expect charges against Khobragade to be dropped if she leaves the US.

After that, New Delhi will return to showing a blind eye to the activities at the embassy club.