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Khobragade "On Watchlist," But US Let French Dip Serman Return as Consul

By Matthew Russell Lee, Follow Up on Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, January 10 -- Following yesterday's US indictment of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade for underpaying a domestic worker, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki today said that Khobragade was told that if she applies for another visa to the US, her name would be placed on a watch list.

  Back in 2011, though, Inner City Press uncovered and exclusively reported on the case of a French diplomat, Romain Serman, who after assaulting a New York Police Department officer while allegedly buying cocaine was allowed to leave the country before any indictment. See story here, arrest report here.

  It seems clear that Serman was NOT placed on any 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 assaulting a police officer when being arrested for 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 cannot be missed.

  The Indian diplomat was arrested, booked and stripped searched, indicted and told she'd be put on a visa watch list. The French diplomat Romain Serman was allowed to quietly leave the country without any indictment, and was allowed to return, as consul.

  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, amazingly, 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 today about 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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