Diplomatic ties between India and Italy will be affected, says MHA

Serious differences have emerged between the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) over the prosecution of the two Italian marines charged with murdering two fishermen off the Kerala coast in February 2012.

While the NIA wants to charge the two under the ‘Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act’ (SUA) that provides for capital punishment for causing death, the MHA is reluctant on it as India has assured Italy that its citizens would not be given death penalty, if found guilty. But as per the SUA, if any person “causes death to any person, (he) shall be punished with death.”

Sources in the government said on Thursday that top officials of the MHA and the NIA had long discussions on the issue. While the NIA said there was no option but to charge the marines with the SUA, the MHA opposed it as it would create diplomatic problems for India and also hurt the country’s interests in the global arena. The MHA is now planning to refer the matter to the Attorney General for legal opinion.

Role of special court

The sources said the NIA officials feel that the SUA was the appropriate law under which Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone should be charged, but the special court hearing the case could be urged not to award the accused death penalty, if found guilty, to honour India’s commitment to Italy.

The Italians, who were on board Enrica Lexie, are now lodged in the Italian embassy in New Delhi, while the NIA has managed to record their colleagues’ statements on the case via teleconferencing.

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