Kerala fisherman murders: How money is slowly killing the case

The case against the Italian gunslingers who killed  Kerala fishermen is crumbling in the face of moneypower and faith.

Following the relatives of the slain fisherman, who accepted cash from the Italians, it is now the turn of the boat-owner to go back on his words and even side with the Italians in the Enrica Lexie case.

The Italians gave him Rs 17 lakh to compensate for the damage to his boat caused by gunfire from the ship; in return, owner J Freddy has not only dropped the case he had filed, but also signed an agreement that might weaken the Kerala government’s FIR against the Italian marines.

The statements by the relatives and the boat owner will be a shot in the arm for the Italians defending their case. AP

As the slain fishermen’s relatives did, he too pardoned on paper the Italians in the name of Jesus Christ and said he didn’t want the Italians to be prosecuted. He also expressed the hope that the marines, who are in jail now, would be able to join their families soon.

The statements by the relatives and the boat owner will be a shot in the arm for the Italians defending their case. The relatives of the slain fishermen had withdrawn the case a few days ago when given Rs 1 crore each.

On being compensated, Freddy even went a step ahead. He said when the incident happened, the boat was cruising at high speed towards the ship without headlights. Jalastine, one of the fishermen killed, was on the driver’s seat and he seemed to have slept off.

He immediately took control of the wheel and steered it out of the way. If he hadn’t intervened on time, it could have rammed into the ship. This statement could be used by the Italians in the court to justify their firing to deter the boat that was rushing towards it at high speed without headlights in the dead of the night.

Freddy said that he was woken up from sleep by the siren and gunfire from the ship. He also saw the flashlights — sufficient evidence for the Italians to argue that they had tried to deter the boat with siren and flashlights before firing at them.

The boat was in international waters and it was him who brought it back to the Indian sea, Freddy said. Jalastine, who was on the driver’s seat, had no licence to navigate the boat.

The Italian government, in the agreement with Freddy, however has made it clear that the compensation was being given on humanitarian grounds and it did not mean acknowledgement of the Indian jurisdiction in the case. Reportedly, Freddy has also promised to testify in support of the marines.

In summary, Freddy’s statement on crucial factors such as a fisherman without licence handling the boat, the boat cruising at high speed towards the ship without headlights despite the blaring sirens and flashlights from the ship, and the incident occurring in international waters are very useful pieces of evidence for the Italians in the case.

His statement is in fact a de facto admission of mistake on the fishermen’s part for provoking firing from the ship. The Italians can very well justify, on the basis of Freddy as witness, that the firing was in self-defence. If Freddy testifies in support of the marines, it will weaken the case of the state government.

The buy-outs have happened after considerable negotiations right under the nose of the state government. If the state government was serious about the case, it should have intervened and impressed up on the relatives not to sell out, whether for money or for their faith.

Meanwhile, a high court bench expressed its annoyance when the relatives of the slain fishermen appeared to withdraw their cases on the FIR against the marines. Referring to a common proverb in Malayalam that ridicules the native’s submission to the “white man”, the judge reportedly asked them if they had forgotten everything when they saw the money. He said they had wasted the court’s time and asked if it was a ploy to get the compensation.

Yet again, money and faith prove to be a deadly cocktail. Does it really matter if the state government assures that the Italian government cannot buy out people to defuse the case, and that it will gather stronger evidence to push ahead?

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