New Delhi

India secret service won't probe marines

Travel ban on Italian ambassador lifted

India secret service won't probe marines

(By Christopher Livesay) New Delhi, April 2 - The Indian government on Tuesday denied reports that its elite secret service was taking over the case of two Italian marines on trial for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen a year ago. "There has been no official confirmation," government spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told ANSA, contrary to reports Monday that the case had been reassigned from local authorities to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which was set up after the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai to combat national-security threats. The complex case has reached the highest political levels, has led to the resignation of Italy's foreign minister, and caused a diplomatic rift between the two countries over the fate of the marines. Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone are accused of shooting and killing fishermen Jelestine Valentine and Ajesh Binki after mistaking them for pirates while guarding a mercantile ship off the Kerala coast in February 2012. Italy disagrees with India's claim that it has jurisdiction over the case, arguing that the deaths occurred in international waters. Such was its justification when the government announced last month that the men, on a four-week parole in Italy to vote during general elections, would not be going back to face trial for homicide. The move prompted India to slap Italian Ambassador to India Daniele Mancini with a travel ban, preventing him from leaving the country in what Italy blasted as a violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic protocol. International tensions eventually cooled when Italy, in a dramatic U-turn, said it would send the marines back to India after all. The men returned on March 22. On Tuesday, India's Supreme Court lifted the travel ban on Italy's ambassador "until further notice," according to Chief Justice Altamas Kabir. But while diplomatic pressures have eased, political ones in Rome were exacerbated by the move, which last week triggered the acrimonious resignation of Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi, who complained that the government went against his wishes to keep the marines in Italy. Outgoing Premier Mario Monti, who denied the charge, appeared the next day before both houses of parliament to provide more details behind the tangled row. Monti said relations with key trade allies in the developing world were on the line but denied that economics was a factor in the decision-making process. Speaking before the Senate, Monti said that Italy had faced "measures" from India and fellow BRICS countries as a consequence for choosing not to return the marines to face trial. "We had word from Foreign Undersecretary Staffan De Mistura that the possibility of measures being taken against Italy were being considered," Monti said. BRICS, an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is an influential association of emerging national economies. In his address to the House, Monti insisted that economic interests did not influence the decision. "Let me reject forcefully any speculation about possible exchanges or agreements with India," Monti said. Some media outlets have linked the marines' case to corruption allegations surrounding a $748 million deal for the purchase of 12 Italian helicopters, a contract that the Indian government is now threatening to scrap. Monti stressed the diplomatic stakes. "There were serious and objective risks that Italy would find itself isolated in the international community," if it had failed to ensure the pair returned to India, Monti said. "It would have opened a crisis of serious proportions with India". On Tuesday, the Indian Supreme Court said it was taking "initiatives" to form a special court for the case, Indian Attorney General Goolam Essaji Vahanvati said.

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