By Lorenzo Totaro and Andrew MacAskill
Opposition lawmakers disrupted India‚Äôs parliament to protest the decision by the Italian government not to return two of its marines charged with killing fishermen they suspected of being pirates.
Legislators in both chambers demanded to know what the Indian government will do to bring the men back. The Italian ambassador to New Delhi informed the Indian authorities that Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone ‚Äúwon‚Äôt return to India,‚Äù the European nation‚Äôs Foreign Ministry said yesterday. The Italian government said India failed to respond to a request to negotiate a diplomatic solution.
The prosecution of the Italians was the first attempt to hold armed maritime guards accountable for the deaths of innocent people in an anti-piracy operation. Relations between the two countries were further strained by allegations that bribes were paid by a unit of Italy‚Äôs Finmeccanica SpA (FNC) to secure the contract to supply 12 civilian helicopters to the Indian government.
‚ÄúThey will never face justice now,‚Äù said John Churchill, a Catholic priest who is general secretary of the South Asian Fishermen Fraternity and a cousin of one of the dead fishermen. ‚ÄúIt is an insult to all of India.‚Äù
India‚Äôs government was informed of the Italian move late yesterday and will make no further comment until it has reviewed its position, said Syed Akbaruddin, spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party accused the government of working with the Italian government to end the diplomatic standoff.
‚ÄúThis is unacceptable and we will not allow the government to get away with this criminal conspiracy,‚Äù Tarun Vijay, a BJP lawmaker, told reporters.
The marines, who were on a home leave to allow them to vote in last month‚Äôs elections, were due to return to New Delhi to be tried for the killing of the two fisherman in waters off the southern state of Kerala in February 2012. The marines were acting as guards on the Italian-flagged Enrica Lexie tanker as it sailed to Egypt from Singapore, a route that includes crossing the Indian Ocean, where Somali pirates operate.
They were allowed to return to Italy for Christmas after the Italian ambassador gave a guarantee the men would be returned. Akbaruddin said he did not know whether the same guarantee had been given ahead of the latest leave.
The arrest of the Italians triggered a diplomatic rift between Italy and India as they presented different versions of the attack. Italy has argued that the men shot the two fishermen in self-defense and that the marines should be tried in their own country because the incident occurred in international waters outside of India‚Äôs jurisdiction.
Ferrari SpA, the Italian sports car maker, even weighed in, having two of its cars carry the flag of the Italian navy during the Oct. 28 Formula One grand-prix race in New Delhi.
India‚Äôs Chief Justice ruled in January that the two men could be put on trial in New Delhi, ordering hearings before a specially convened court in the capital.
Separately, India‚Äôs government has ordered an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the alleged graft in the helicopter purchase and is threatening to cancel the deal if any wrongdoing is uncovered.
Finmeccanica Chief Executive Officer Giuseppe Orsi has been arrested on accusations of corruption and tax fraud as authorities probe alleged illegal payments tied to the contract. The company has denied the charges.