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Rediff.com  » News » Inside story: How India and Italy sorted the marines' row

Inside story: How India and Italy sorted the marines' row

March 22, 2013 14:55 IST

Italian marines Massimiliano Lattore and Salvatore Girone have got a deal similar to that of the gangster Abu Salem, which ensures that they won’t get the death penalty. Sheela Bhatt reports on how a diplomatic stand-off was averted.

Italian marines Massimiliano Lattore and Salvatore Girone, who have agreed to return to India to face trail have won a favourable deal, similar to gangster Abu Salem. This ends the diplomatic crisis that erupted when they refused to return to face trial in India for killing two fisherman, who they mistook for pirates, off the Indian coast near Kerala.

Their refusal to face trial had created a diplomatic crisis with the Indian Supreme Court barring the Italian Ambassador from leaving the country.

The ministry of external affairs will and should get credit for resolving the issue but the government in Italy has agreed to send their naval officers back only after Indian side gave the vital assurance of the waiver of the death penalty, if and when they are tried in the Indian courts.

In 2005, the Indian judicial system allowed such waiver in case of Abu Salem.

May be, on similar lines the Italian marines will face trial but not the death penalty after the Indian establishment’s assurance, said a source in government while confirming the deal.

It is a different matter that, under Indian law, the marines would most probably not have got the death penalty because their alleged crime, even if proved, is not likely to fall under the ‘rarest of rare’ category which is the requirement for awarding the death penalty in India.

In 2005, Abu Salem, the prime accused in 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, and his girlfriend Monica Bedi were extradited to India after the tough legal battle fought by Central Bureau of Investigation in Portugal.

Salem could be extradited because India gave an assurance to Portugal that he will not be given the death penalty. The guarantee was necessary in Europe for successful extradition proceedings.

The senior source in government said that, “Indian diplomats in the MEA did a good job to bring the marines back.”

Italy have agreed to deal because not only they have got an important waiver for their two marines but they saw that Italy got huge negative publicity as the country decided to snub the Indian Supreme Court.

Indian political establishment could not have gone against the court’s proceedings as it was already in motion. Sonia Gandhi’s clear statement that no country should take India for granted meant that the Indian political establishment had limitations because the issue was in the country’s highest court.

As the prestige of Indian Supreme Court was involved, Italy could not have continued with status quo for long.

The new government is yet to settle down in Italy. There is a kind of turf war going on between defence and foreign affairs ministry in the fluid political situation in Rome.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, along with Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Steffan de Mistura jointly drew the terms of negotiations which had become a national issue. Mistura was the key mover of the final deal which helped resolved the crisis.

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi