WASHINGTON- Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade may be inching closer to gaining diplomatic immunity with United Nations officials quoted as saying India's request to transfer her to its UN mission has been approved.
The transfer of Dr Khobragade - who was deputy consul-general in New York - to the UN was aimed at blocking further prosecution by giving her full immunity, as opposed to consular immunity, which covers only her consular work and not her personal affairs.
The Indian envoy is at the centre of a diplomatic spat between the United States and India.
India has taken exception to the US' treatment of the diplomat, who was strip-searched when arrested for visa fraud earlier this month. Dr Khobragade is accused of paying her domestic worker less than the minimum wage promised in her visa declaration and is currently out on bail.
While it is unclear if she will get diplomatic immunity, many are questioning how that will affect the case. Questions remain on whether immunity can be applied retrospectively.
According to legal experts, the answer is no but it is still a big stumbling block for US authorities.
"It's like putting her in a bubble," said Ms Martina Vandenberg, president of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Centre in Washington. "It makes the indictment functionally meaningless and you can't bring her to court, you can't take her to prison... So although the criminal complaint would remain in place, you would not be able to actually enforce it."
A Reuters report quoted a UN source as saying on Monday that the UN has processed the request to register Dr Khobragade as a member of India's permanent mission to the UN.
"However, the final stop in the process is the US (State Department)," the source added.
Contrary to Indian media reports, there is no indication Dr Khobragade has actually received the new accreditation.
Ms Vandenberg explained that the US State Department would usually grant a country's UN representative a visa before he or she arrives, and deny it if the person was a terrorist or a felon.