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HC allows Marines to go home for Christmas

Thiruvananthapuram, Dec. 20: The Italian marines accused of killing two Kerala fishermen in February could be allowed a two-week visit home for Christmas, with the high court clearing the trip with riders.

Latorre Massimillano and Salvatore Girone, out on bail but not allowed to leave Kochi, will have to deposit a bank guarantee of Rs 6 crore and return by January 10, Justice P. Bhavadasan said, dismissing the state government’s fears that they may not come back.

The court, however, left the final decision to the Centre. New Delhi is likely to approve the trip, having backed the marines’ plea to allow the visit and requested the court to consider an undertaking from the Italian ambassador.

The two weeks will be counted from the date of departure. The marines’ impounded passports can be released after the travel papers are furnished, the court said.

“We are happy with the decision. The marines will definitely come back,” ambassador Giacomo Stanfelice said, reiterating the pledge he had made in his undertaking to the court.

Girone’s wife Vania was quoted as telling Italian news agency Ansa that they had received a “Christmas present”. “It is a moment of great joy, our hearts are dancing. The greatest Christmas present has arrived for us,” Vania said.

But the family of one of the two fishermen killed expressed unhappiness with today’s order. Jelestine Valentine’s widow Dora told a channel that the marines may not return and the case would not reach anywhere, echoing the state government’s fears.

T. Asaf Ali, the director-general of prosecution who appeared for the state, told the court that the aim was to “smuggle out” the accused from India on the pretext of celebrating Christmas, and that Rome’s undertakings could not be accepted. Once in Italy, they would be prosecuted for a crime registered there on the same charge, making the undertakings invalid, Ali said.

“Italy joined hands with the accused right from the inception of the case. Their words cannot be believed. The undertaking will remain a dead letter if the marines don’t come back,” Ali contended.

He cited a French espionage case in which an Indian court allowed the accused to go back home in 1998. But they never returned despite undertakings given by the French government through its ambassador in India.

Italy has opposed the authority of Indian courts to try the case, saying the February 15 shooting occurred outside Indian territorial waters, and its petition to this effect is pending before the Supreme Court.

A week ago, Italian authorities summoned the Indian ambassador in Rome and conveyed their displeasure over what they claimed was a delay in the hearing of the petition in the apex court.

Marines Massimillano and Girone, guarding Italian cargo vessel Enrica Lexie, were arrested four days after the shooting. They claimed they had open fire at Valentine and Ajesh Binki, the other victim, and other fishermen suspecting them to be pirates.