The fresh probe being undertaken by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) into the Enrica Lexie case has encountered a major hurdle with Italy refusing to send four of its marines to India for questioning as witnesses.
The NIA had initiated the probe following a Supreme Court ruling in April to find out whether Italian marines Salvatore Girone and Massimilano Lattore, onboard Italian vessel Enrica Lexie, had killed two Indian fishermen off the Alappuzha coast on February 15, 2012.
The accused marines had claimed that they had fired warning shots on the premise that the fishing boat, St Antony, was a pirate skiff.
India had formally asked Italy through diplomatic channels to send four other marines, who were also stationed on Enrica Lexie along with Girone and Lattore, to be sent here for formal questioning by the NIA.
It is learnt that Italy has recently told India that it cannot facilitate their return. “They said that the marines are on different missions right now, so it will be difficult to manage to get them back to India for questioning,” said a senior government official.
According to sources, the government is now looking at the possibility of arranging the questioning of the four witnesses through video-conferencing, but no decision has been taken so far, with legal implications being looked into.
The questioning of the four witnesses is crucial in establishing not just the circumstances of the shooting, but also to rule out some of the anomalies that had crept in during the investigation.
Italian newspaper ‘La Repubblica’ had accessed the preliminary report of an Italian team which visited Kerala in March last year to participate in the ballistic tests of the weapons seized from the ship. The team, which was allowed to witness the Indian ballistic tests, noted that four bullets were examined, two of which were found on the fishing boats and two found in the bodies of the Indian fishermen.
As per the Italian team’s report, the make of the bullets were found to be 5.56mm NATO, which was manufactured in Italy. More significantly, two of bullets obtained from the victim’s bodies were traced to the weapons to the rifles belonging to two other marines, but not Girone or Latorre.
The NIA had been given a period of three months to complete their investigations, but there are indications that the process may get delayed till August before the case comes to trial in a special court.