India, Italy negotiate legal assistance treaty

Treaty yet to be signed amid concerns over death penalty provisions in India

August 13, 2022 06:36 pm | Updated 06:36 pm IST - New Delhi

India and Italy are finetuning a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) that would help the two countries obtain formal assistance in investigation related to criminal cases.

Though the two countries have held two rounds of negotiation, the final agreement is said to be stuck amid concerns that maximum punishment for heinous crimes in India is “death penalty,” while capital punishment has been abolished in Italy.

Earlier, Germany had also refused to sign MLAT with India on death penalty grounds.

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, “Mutual Legal Assistance is a mechanism whereby countries cooperate with one another in order to provide and obtain formal assistance in prevention, suppression, investigation and prosecution of crime to ensure that the criminals do not escape or sabotage the due process of law for want of evidence available in different countries.”

While India has so far signed MLAT with 45 countries, India and Italy do not have a bilateral agreement on criminal matters so far.

In 2021, the Supreme Court formally closed criminal proceedings against two Italian marines who shot dead two fishermen off Kerala coast in 2012 under the belief that they were pirates. When the case was under trial, Italy refused to return two of its marines who had returned to cast vote in elections in 2013. The Marines returned only after an assurance was given by India that they will not be subjected to death penalty.

The investigating agencies probing the 2013 Agusta Westland chopper scam had to face multiple hurdles when Italy refused to extradite Carlo Gerosa, one of the three middlemen wanted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). It had contended in 2018 that the extradition could not take place as the two countries did not have an MLAT or a formal extradition agreement. The extradition pact in place now is only limited to narcotics related crimes.

The formalisation of MLAT with Italy is also likely to help the investigating agencies in securing assistance in investigation against Sikh secessionist network operating from the country.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) in chargesheets filed in courts in 2018 and 2019 said that the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), a banned outfit, had planned and executed eight incidents of targeted killings and attempted killings in Punjab between January, 2016 and October, 2017 and all the victims belonged to specific communities and organisations. NIA found that the crime had its footprints in several countries, including Italy. KLF chief Harmeet Singh alias PhD was killed in Pakistan in 2020.

India and Italy have held two rounds of discussion on signing of the bilateral agreement in April and May, a senior government official said. The final minutes have been agreed upon but the treaty is yet to be signed.

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