As ministries lock horns, Centre seeks AG's help in marines case

Published: 13th October 2013 07:42 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th October 2013 10:49 AM   |  A+A-


Two Italian marines charged with killing two Indian fishermen off Kerala coast  may be busy partying but the Centre has tied itself up in knots over the probe, with crucial ministries locking horns.

The fight among the ministries has reached such a level that the Centre has sought Attorney General G E Vahanvati’s opinion to find a way out of the muddle.

The latest tussle is over how to deal with the Italy’s reluctance to send four colleagues of the detained marines to India to depose before court.

The Italian Government has refused to send them, who were on board the Italian vessel Enrica Lexie when their colleagues Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone allegedly shot dead two fishermen off Alappuzha coast in February, 2012.

 While the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Law Ministry are on the same boat and seen as a bit lenient, the Home Ministry. headed by Sushilkumar Shinde, has adopted an aggressive posture. The Home Ministry, which is of the view that Italy’s refusal is violation of the understanding between the two countries, wants the matter to be reported to the Supreme Court.

But the MEA is not keen to take any aggressive turns as talks are still on with the Italian counterparts. And the Law Ministry, as if reading the MEA’s mind, has proposed that it would be enough for the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to send a questionnaire to the four Italian witnesses.

“The MEA is of the view that the Centre should not create a diplomatic issue over the witnesses, as the two accused are already in custody. The Law Ministry has also taken a similar stand. But the Home Ministry feels that Italy has once again flouted the agreement,” said an official source. 

The Home Ministry also feels that the refusal of the four Italians to appear as witnesses before the NIA is further delaying the ongoing probe.

According to the source, the higher-ups in the  government, wary of the political implications of such a case in an election year, wants the issue to be settled at the earliest and has sought the opinion of the AG.

“The political, national and religious undertones of the case are such that it is capable of ruining the chances of the ruling party,” said the source, underlining the importance attached to the case. 

He said the Centre had approached the AG in March when the Italian Government had decided not to send back the two Marines to face trial for murder. “The AG’s intervention helped the Centre solve the matter without losing face,” he added.

The Centre, it is learnt, has sent all its options -- video conferencing with the four witnesses, sending questionnaires or sending NIA officials to Italy -- to the AG.

The Kerala government is also putting pressure on the Congress political leadership. “The opposition had printed posters of the two marines partying in the Embassy and we had a tough time explaining things. As the country is preparing for the general elections, the issue has to be settled at the earliest,” a Union minister and Congress leader from the State told Express.


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