Italy sees 'swift and fair' solution for India marines
Govt working group expects end of probe soon23 August, 17:16
The third meeting of the government's working group on the case, with Premier Enrico Letta, foreign, justice and defence ministers, and envoy Staffan de Mistura, said it was awaiting the completion of an Indian probe ahead of trial, which it expected to come soon.
One final legal opinion on witness interviews is the sole roadblock to wrapping up the probe, India said this week.
Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said Thursday the government's lawyers had found a solution to the testifying issue, although he said he preferred to wait for the lawyers to announce it.
The four witnesses - fellow marines who are thought to have seen what happened the night two of their comrades allegedly killed the two Indian fishermen - are at the heart of a dispute over whether they should be in India for interviews by investigators.
Italy maintains their presence is not necessary to the investigation of Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, accused of murder in the shooting deaths of two fishermen in February 2012.
The pair allegedly mistook the fishermen for pirates.
The four witnesses could be interviewed long-distance, Italian authorities have said.
Italian Defence Minister Mario Mauro said the witnesses could be interviewed by video conference or by Indian investigators on Italian soil.
Italy began a fresh push on the case last week by sending de Mistura back to New Delhi.
De Mistura held talks with Khurshid and lawyers from both sides.
The government envoy told ANSA that the four marines who were on board the E. Lexie merchant ship with Latorre and Girone would not be sent to New Delhi to testify on the incident in which the two fishermen died.
Latorre and Girone are accused by Indian authorities of the double homicides of Valentine (aka Gelastine) and Ajesh Binki in Feburary 2012 after allegedly mistaking them for pirates while guarding the merchant ship off the coast of the southern Kerala region.
The four marines, de Mistura told ANSA, would not be sent to India in "a decision taken in Italy on all levels, including mine".
Italy's Foreign Minister Emma Bonino earlier this month repeated the government's intention to bring home the two marines.
The government's objective, she said, is to "bring them home".
"With radical obstinacy and sound realism," she added, "we can do it".
Last month Bonino said Latorre and Girone would most likely return home by Christmas, but Defence Minister Mario Mauro said earlier this week that that forecast might be optimistic.
"I think early 2014 is more likely," he said.
Kurshid has said India is working "as quickly as possible" to resolve the case.
"We are trying to solve obstacles in the context of our laws," and how they relate to Italian laws, he said.
He added that he hoped for "a better understanding" between the two countries: "I hope all these our efforts will lead to a quick decision".
However, Khurshid refused to set a time frame for finalizing the investigation and trial of the marines.
India has said that it hopes to conclude the inquiry by the end of August.
Khurshid recently assured Italy that the marines would not face the death penalty.
"They are not facing that possibility," he said.
He added that Indian law recognizes a mitigating factor that offers hope that the pair may not be held criminally accountable.
Kurshid spoke of "a crucial mitigating factor, that of good faith".
"If someone acts in good faith, there is no criminal culpability," he said.
There have been conflicting reports on the penalties faced by the men since they were returned to India after coming back home to vote amid an escalating diplomatic row over Italy's initial refusal to hand them back after the February 22 general election.
On April 22 India's supreme court handed the issue of their coming trial to the government.
New Delhi decided to continue letting India's anti-terrorism police lead a fresh probe.
Latorre and Girone are being investigated by the anti-terrorism National Investigation Agency (NIA), and not the criminal Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
This was initially taken as suggesting the marines might face a possible death sentence if convicted.
On April 16 Italy presented an affidavit challenging a lower-court decision to assign the case to the NIA, which placed the investigation under a severe 2002 law designed to fight terrorism in international waters.
The 2002 anti-terrorism law calls for capital punishment in the case of conviction for homicide.
After a drawn-out diplomatic row, Italy agreed to hand the men back to Indian authorities in March despite contesting India's right to jurisdiction, given the incident took place in international waters.
India briefly stopped the Italian ambassador leaving the country as the row escalated before Italy embarrassingly climbed down on a refusal to honour a pledge to send the men back after a trip home to vote in the general election.
They had previously returned, and Italy won praise for keeping its promise, after a Christmas break.
Bonino, who replaced Giulio Terzi who resigned in a government flap over the case, said she was certain an agreement would be found because of India's great legal tradition and respect for human rights.
"India is a great country, and one of rights. Our countries need to listen to each other," she said.