Italian marines death penalty ruling postponed

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Salvatore Girone (L) and Massimiliano Latorre (R) are facing the dealth penalty for the alleged murder of two Indian fishermen. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP
11:05 CET+01:00
A ruling on whether to impose the death penalty on two Italians marines for alleged murder has been postponed by an Indian court until February 10th.

The delay has prompted the Italian government to ask that Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, who face death for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen while on an anti-piracy mission in February 2012, be sent home in the meantime.

"We asked the court, given the indecision of the prosecution, to authorize the marines' return to Italy," special government envoy Staffan De Mistura told the Italian news agency, ANSA.

De Mistura added that the request will be repeated again next Monday, “regardless of the decision”.

"The prosecution can no longer play with time. We have calculated with our lawyer 25 judicial postponements without one piece of documentation."

The judge in India said a ruling next Monday was “imminent”.

In January, lawyers for the pair 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".

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 requested 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 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.

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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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