New Delhi: The two Italian marines facing trial for the murder of Indian fishermen returned to India on Friday, with India quashing speculation of any deal to get the men after the Italian government refused to send them back earlier this month.
India’s foreign ministry confirmed that the two marines had landed in the country—before the expiry of a deadline set by India’s Supreme Court for them to return. The court, while giving the two men permission to leave India to cast their vote in last month’s Italian parliamentary election, had ordered the marines to return by 22 March. “We had no deal anywhere,” Indian foreign minister Salman Khurshid told reporters, but added that India had clarified two issues in writing to the Italian government “for their benefit”.
“When they enquired and asked us, we clarified to them in writing that if the marines come back within the period that is given to them, which I believe is presumably till midnight 22nd today (Friday), they will be compliant with the SC order,” which means no arrest of the marines. Khurshid also said the Indian government had also conveyed to the Italian government that the nature of the crime committed did not entail trial under sections of the law that attracted the death penalty.
“We clarified that the nature of the alleged incident, for which they will be put on trial, is such that in such a case, there would not be death sentence. Because in the description that is being given of the rarest of the rarest cases... We clarified that,” Khurshid said. “We didn’t say we will not give you this sentence. We said that our understanding is that this is not a case for rarest of rarest. We checked with the law officers...and we gave them only after the law officers” gave their opinion, Khurshid said. The government would also set up a special court to take the trial forward, he said. “We don’t want to be on the wrong side of expectations” that the case would be dealt with soon, he added.
The return of Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone has defused a major diplomatic standoff between India and Italy sparked by the Italian government’s announcement on 11 March that the two would not be sent back. The decision attracted the wrath of the Indian Supreme Court as well, as Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini had guaranteed that the two marines would return. In a bid to pressure Italy, India had briefed the European Union envoy to India Joao Cravinho and even put its airports on alert to prevent Mancini from leaving, prompting accusations that India was violating international laws on diplomatic immunity.
Italy has been insisting the pair should be prosecuted in their home country because the shootings of the two Indian fishermen, off the Kerala coast in February 2012, involved an Italian-flagged oil tanker in international waters. India says the killings took place in its territorial waters. The two marines are accused of having shot dead two Indian fishermen they mistook for pirates.
The return of the marines was hailed as a victory for Indian diplomacy by several quarters.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh welcomed Italy’s decision to send back its two marines.
“I am happy that the integrity and dignity of the Indian judicial process has been upheld,” Singh told reporters in Parliament. The prime minister had earlier warned that the move would have consequences for bilateral relations if the two did not return.
Relations between the two countries have also been soured by corruption allegations surrounding the Rs.3,600 crore deal for the purchase of 12 helicopters made by AgustaWestland, which the Indian government is now threatening to scrap.