Kerala HC allows Italian marines to go home for Christmas

Last Updated: Thu, Dec 20, 2012 16:47 hrs

Kochi: Kerala High Court on Thursday ruled that two Italian Marines detained for the deaths of two fishermen can go home for Christmas, pending formal government approval, said Italian Consul General Giampaolo Cutillo.

"As soon as the bureaucratic work is done they can go," Cutillo said. "Let's see if by the weekend it will be possible."

The court said the pair can go to Italy for 15 days, provided they return no later than Jan. 10. Italy had to furnish an additional 60 million rupees ($1.1 million) on top of the existing 40 million rupees ($730,000) in bail for the Marines, as well as guarantees from Italy's foreign minister, the country's ambassador to India and Cutillo.

India's Ministry of Foreign Affairs must give immigration authorities a formal letter of no objection before the Marines can leave the country, but the ministry has already told Kerala's High Court it has no objection to the trip, Cutillo said.

Foreign affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said the government is waiting to receive Thursday's judgment from the court before making a decision.

Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone were aboard a cargo ship in February when they opened fire on a fishing boat they mistook for a pirate craft and killed two Indian fishermen. They are out on bail but cannot leave the country without court permission.

The incident has been emotionally charged for both India and Italy. Italy is fighting in Supreme Court for jurisdiction to try the Marines at home, arguing the firing took place in international waters, which Indian authorities dispute.

Italian Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paolo visited the Marines in Kochi over the weekend and appealed to India to let them celebrate the holiday with their families.

News that the two would likely be home for Christmas was cheered in Italy.

"We will be able to embrace our Marines here this Christmas, trusting that upon their return to India, in accordance with the agreements, India's Supreme Court will finally issue its decision and the Marines will come back home to be tried under Italian justice," Italian President Giorgio Napolitano told reporters.

"I'm on cloud nine," Latorre's sister Franca told Italy's La Repubblica newspaper. "We were in a deafening, almost religious silence while waiting for their decision on whether we would get to see them again at Christmas."

Must respect court's judgment: Khurshid

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid denied that India has gone soft and said the court judgment must be respected.

Asked if the court judgment was an indication of India going soft on the two Italian marines, Khurshid said: "It's neither being harsh nor soft."

"If the court in its wisdom has relaxed some conditions then it is entirely a matter between the court and the petition.. We must respect the court judgment," Khurshid said on the sidelines of the ASEAN-INDIA commemorative summit here Thursday.

The court said the marines -- Latorre Massimillano and Salvatore Girone -- could be allowed to go provided they return latest by 3 p.m., Jan 10, 2013, and the Indian government allows them to go. A bank guarantee of Rs.6 crore should also be furnished, the Kerala High Court ruled.

The Kerala government had strongly opposed any sort of relaxation and said there was no guarantee that once they reach Italy, the two will return after Christmas to stand trial in India.

The Italian foreign affairs department had said it would ensure that the marines are brought back after Christmas.

The two marines submitted a petition last week to be allowed to go home for Christmas. Massimillano and Girone, who are out on bail and staying in a hotel in Kochi, were allegedly involved in the killing of two Indian fishermen, Ajesh Binki and Gelastine, Feb 15.

The marines mistook the fishermen for pirates and fired at them off the Alappuzha coast.

The two were deployed as the security crew aboard the Italian cargo vessel Enrica Lexie.

Italy's Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paolo had visited the two marines last week.

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