A team of NIA sleuths is likely to visit Italy to question four Italian marines, who were witness to the killing of two fishermen off Kerala coast in 2012, after their refusal to come to India for deposition before investigators.
Notwithstanding New Delhi's consistent request to send the witnesses, Rome has made it clear that the four will not come 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.
Home Ministry sources said only two options are left before India, the first being sending a team of National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing the case, to Italy after getting a Letters Rogatory from a court. The Italian Police will question the four marines in presence of the NIA team.
Another option is to take statement of the four witnesses under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty signed by both India and Italy. These two ways are acceptable to an Indian court.
Two other options given by Italy -- questioning of the witnesses through videoconferencing or sending questionnaire for the four marines to Rome -- are not admissible in a court.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid are said to have no objection in sending the NIA team to Italy.
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 Italian Embassy here.
Last month, Italian minister Steffan de Mistura met 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 the NIA.
Mistura 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.
India has already ruled out the possibility of any out of court settlement as it was a criminal case, unless it is ordered by the court itself.
The four marines, who were summoned by the 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 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 the national capital saying 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 Supreme 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 was not a rarest of rare case.
India has already conveyed its intent to work out a balanced approach.