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Khobragade Gets Re-indicted, UNlike Immunity French Dip Serman Got, Araud Threats

By Matthew Russell Lee, Follow Up on Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, March 14 -- Two days after the US Federal Court for the Southern District of New York granted Indian diplomat Khobragade the same immunity that French diplomat Romain Serman availed himself of - but which the French Mission to the UN under Gerard Araud has tried to cover up -- Khobragade was re-indicted today.

  At the US State Department briefing in Washington, deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said she'd been "surprised" by the dismissal, but not by the re-indictment. She said she would look into any extradition treaty between Indian and the US.

  (Harf also said, on France's sale of Mistral warships to Russia,

"Well, decisions about these kind of sales are obviously a matter for each sovereign state to take into account including a host of factors obviously, international law, regional stability. We would hope that any country would exercise judgment and restraint when it comes to transferring military equipment that could exacerbate tensions in any conflict region. In general, I think that certainly applies here."  US State Department transcript here: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2014/03/223522.htm
video from Min 20:13 at http://video.state.gov/en/video/3340234629001

  But why did the US act so differently in the case of Romain Serman? Already, Khobagade was told she would be arrested if she tried to re-enter the US, while Serman has already come back, as France's Consul in San Fransisco.

  Following the US indictment of Khobragade in early January for underpaying a domestic worker, Inner City Press cited the case of French diplomat Serman, about which it had asked the French Mission to the UN for comment.

  While the French Mission had declined to comment and instead made only threats, twice on January 13 French Ambassador Gerard Araud summoned Inner City Press at the Security Council stakeout and shouted.

  His spokesperson had told Inner City Press that pursuing the story was a "hostile act." And on January 13, when Inner City Press asked when his spokesperson had declined the opportunity to comment, Araud insisted it was all just outrageous, and made other threats.

  Since that day, Araud has refused to answer any questions from Inner City Press, including on France's insistence on still selling Mistral warships to warships to Russia even as it purports to deplore its actions in Crimea.

  Back in 2011 Inner City Press uncovered and exclusively reported on the case of a French diplomat, Romain Serman, who after resisting arrest while allegedly buying cocaine was later allowed to leave the country. See story here, arrest report here.

  In connection with that story, Inner City Press expressly asked the French Mission to the UN to comment on, explain or contest the NYPD arrest record document.  They did not -- rather, Inner City Press was told that it being published was a "hostile act."

   The French Mission took other actions that form another story. But the point is, the French Mission was asked for comment, and made none.
 
   Now, 32 months later, French Ambassador Araud approached Inner City Press at the Security Council stakeout just after 10 am on January 13. He said the arrest document is from 2006 but Serman did not leave the US until 2007. He said, "if you had checked --"

  Inner City Press replied that his Mission was asked for comment but gave none, only threats.

  Araud said, "You let me finish first!"  Inner City Press continued to listen, but as soon as Araud finished he turned and walked into the Security Council.

  Later on January 13, at 1 pm with the Security Council's consultations on the Democratic Republic of the Congo still ongoing, Ambassador Araud emerged and again began shouting at Inner City Press. While we'll have more on this, notably Araud still did not explain why, when given the chance to comment, it had responded only with threats.

   Why was no comment given by the French Mission back in April 2011, including on the other leaked documents they objected to about the UN mission on Cote d'Ivoire ONUCI and other topics? There is more to be said on all this as well.

 But, in comparison to Ms. Khobragade, it seems clear that Serman was NOT placed on any US watch list, because he not only returned to the US -- he is now France's consul in San Francisco.

  While it may be debatable if resisting arrest for attemped cocaine purchase is more or less serious than allegedly underpaying a domestic worker, the disparity in US treatment between the French and Indian and French diplomat has still not been explained.

  Usually the agreement upon being allowed to leave the US in this way is that the person will not come back to the US. But Romain Serman came back to the US -- as France's consul in San Francisco, still.

  When Inner City Press reported this, the then spokesperson of the French mission demanded that Inner City Press remove the story from the Internet.

  As with stories on Sri Lanka that the United Nations Correspondents Association demanded be taken down from the Internet or Inner City Press face expulsion, Inner City Press refused. The French spokesperson called this a "hostile act" (Inner City Press countered that it was an act of journalism) and things proceeded from there.

  This becomes even more relevant now in light of reports not only of the disparity in indictment of Khobragade versus none for the French Serman, but of US State Department spokesperson Psaki's comments last week about Khobragade being put on a watch list.

  Back in April 2011, Inner City Press asked spokespeople at the US Mission to the UN and then Mark Toner at the State Department, "Was the State Department aware of Serman's arrest record when he re-entered in 2010, and how does applicable law and precedent allow this?"

 And we're still waiting for a response, as we are to FOIA requests pending at the State Department. Soon the new Free UN Coalition for Access will have to get on this case. Watch this site.


 

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