The comptroller of the U.S. Agency for International Development mission here and his wife were detained by Indian customs authorities and questioned about dutiable goods seized at the Delhi international airport, the American Embassy confirmed today.
The Indian Express newspaper said the goods were valued at $250,000.
Leon Wight, 53, an AID employe for 29 years, and his wife, Erlinda, were detained on arrival from Hong Kong yesterday. Six suitcases were seized, according to the newspaper, containing watches, television parts, vitamin B powder used for medicines and other goods strictly controlled by Indian import rules.
Diplomatic sources said the Wights had not been charged by Indian authorities, but that discussions were under way between embassy officials and the Ministry of External Affairs. The couple has been released pending an investigation, the sources said. Officials of the ministry refused to comment and the couple was not available.
An embassy spokesman said U.S. officials "are deeply distressed" and "are working closely with the Indian government to determine all of the facts regarding this matter." In Washington, a spokesman for the agency said there would be no further comment.
U.S. officials here said Wight, from West Springfield, Va., had worked in the AID mission here for 19 months at a GS-15 ($46,000 to $56,000) salary level. The mission, which employs 35 Americans, administers about $130 million in assistance annually.
U.S. sources said Wight is not on the diplomatic list, which would assure him diplomatic immunity, although he was traveling with a diplomatic passport. Not all diplomatic passport holders are included on the list, which is a relatively short one according to an embassy official.
Indian customs officials reportedly stopped the Wights as they walked through the "nothing to declare" customs lane. The Indian Express quoted police as saying a check of the couple's passports showed them to have made a dozen trips to Hong Kong in the past four months.