Italian marines ask India to drop murder case

Two Italian marines appealed to India's top court on Wednesday for murder charges against them to be dropped, citing extensive delays in starting any trial, legal documents showed.

Italian marines ask India to drop murder case
Salvatore Girone (L) and Massimiliano Latorre (R) opened fire on a fishing boat in February 2012, killing two people. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Lawyers for Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone filed a petition in the Supreme Court requesting that the case be dismissed so they can return to Italy because of the "failure of [the Indian] government to file a report for almost a year".

The petition is the latest twist in a case which dates back to February 2012 and sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries.

India's National Investigation Agency has filed preliminary charges of murder and attempted murder against the marines for allegedly shooting dead two fishermen off the southern coast of Kerala.

But formal charges have not been laid against the pair and the Italian government is concerned a trial would get bogged down in India's slow legal system.

Citing the delay, the petition requests the court to "close the right of the government to file a charge sheet" and "permit the marines to travel to Italy".

The marines were guarding an Italian oil tanker in February 2012 when they opened fire on a fishing boat and two fishermen were killed. The marines say they mistook the fishing boat for a pirate vessel.

They were allowed to go home to vote in elections and returned to India for trial in March last year.

Rome initially refused to send them back to India, triggering a bitter diplomatic stand-off between the two countries.

Italy had insisted the pair should be prosecuted in their home country because it said the shootings involved an Italian-flagged vessel in international waters. India says the killings took place in waters under its jurisdiction. 

India, which uses the death penalty in what it says are the "rarest of rare cases", has assured Italy that the two men would not face execution if found guilty.

The return of the two marines to India caused huge controversy in Rome and prompted Italy's foreign minister to resign in protest.

India told Italy in April last year that preparations to set up a special court to try the pair were at an "advanced stage".

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India court grants marine three-month Italy stay

India's top court on Thursday allowed an Italian marine detained for the 2012 killing of two fishermen another three months at home to recover from heart surgery.

India court grants marine three-month Italy stay
Massimiliano Latorre is now due to fly back to India in July. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Massimiliano Latorre and fellow marine Salvatore Girone shot the fishermen while serving as part of an anti-piracy mission off southern India in 2012 in a case that has sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries.

Both marines were barred from leaving India pending trial, but Latorre was given permission to travel to Italy for heart surgery last year. Italian reports said the surgery was a minor procedure to correct a congenital heart defect.

He had been due to return to India this month, but the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that he could stay for another three months after his lawyers said he had developed complications.

Judge Anil R. Dave said the Italian ambassador to India had given a fresh undertaking that Latorre would fly back in July.

Girone is living at Italy's embassy in Delhi. He and Latorre say they mistook the fishing boat for a pirate vessel and fired what were intended to be warning shots.

Italy says the pair should be tried on home soil since the shootings involved an Italian-flagged vessel in what it says were international waters.

India, however, maintains the killings took place in waters under its jurisdiction.

In December, Rome threatened to withdraw its ambassador from India after a court rejected Latorre's request for medical leave, a ruling that was later overturned.

The marines were granted home visits to vote in national elections in 2013, but India was furious when the Italian government initially said it would not send the men back.

A subsequent U-turn, which followed intense Indian diplomatic pressure, triggered the resignation of Italy's then foreign minister.