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NIA to question Italian witnesses through video conferencing

November 06, 2013 19:52 IST

National Investigation Agency is likely to question four Italian marines, who were witness to the killing of two fishermen off Kerala coast in 2012, through video conferencing after their refusal to come to India for deposition and home ministry's reluctance to send any team to Rome to quiz them.

Notwithstanding India's consistent request to send the witnesses, Italy has made it clear that the four will not go to India to appear before investigators in connection with the case in which two Italian marines are accused.

After Italy's refusal, the home ministry has sought the opinion of the Attorney General to suggest the way forward.

With the top law officer advising the government against sending a National Investigation Agency team to Italy, the Ministry is left with the only option of questioning the four witnesses through video conferencing after getting a Letters Rogatory from a court.

Official sources said the witnesses may be called to the Indian Embassy in Rome from where the four will appear before the investigators for questioning through video conferencing in presence of a magistrate.

Indian investigators in the past have questioned foreign witnesses through video conferencing.

A witness was questioned by CBI through video conferencing in the 1995 urea scam from Indian High Commission in London.

India has already conveyed to Italy that delay in questioning the witnesses is only jeopardising the future of Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, accused of shooting dead two Indian fishermen off Kerala coast on February 15, 2012. Both the accused are now lodged in the Italian Embassy.

In September, Italian Minister Steffan de Mistura had met External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid to express concern over the delay in the trial.

"It's an emotional matter in Italy. There were a lot of psychological and political tensions even when the two marines were sent back to India. It will be difficult to explain that not only two marines are here but the other four will also be sent...," he had told reporters referring to the questioning of the witnesses by NIA.

Mistura had said Italy wanted to cooperate with India and had given options. "But we will not send the other four marines to India...," he had said.

The four marines, who were summoned by NIA, were onboard Italian vessel 'Enrica Lexie' and were present at the scene when their colleagues Latorre and Girone allegedly shot dead the two Indian fishermen.

The two have been slapped with murder charges for gunning down Ajesh Binki and Jelestine.

NIA has questioned and recorded the statements of the Master of the vessel, Umberto Vittelli, Chief Officer James Mandley Samson, Second Officer Sahil Gupta, Semen Fulbaria Marendra, Kumar Naren and former ordinary seaman Kantamuich Tirumal Rao.

The Supreme Court had shifted the case to Delhi, saying the Kerala Police have no jurisdiction over the case and backed the government's decision to hand over the case to NIA.

Italy had claimed since the incident had taken place in international waters, Indian courts have no jurisdiction to conduct the trial.

However, the apex court had ruled that the incident took place at a distance of about 20.5 nautical miles from the coastline of Kerala and, therefore, it occurred not within the territorial waters of the coastline of Kerala but within the Contiguous Zone.

The Italian government had in April reversed its earlier decision not to send back to India the two marines who had gone to Italy to cast votes in elections there.

Italy had reneged on its assurance to the Supreme Court on sending back the two marines but later gave in after the Indian government and the apex court took a firm stand with New Delhi warning that ties with Rome could be downgraded.

Khurshid had said in Parliament that the case will not attract death penalty as it did not fall in the rarest of rare category.

India has already conveyed its intent to work out a balanced approach.

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