Trivandrum : With the Supreme Court terming illegal the agreement between the slain fishermen’s relatives and the boat owner with the Italian government in the Enrica Lexie case, the role of the representatives of the Catholic church who brokered the deal and the Kerala government that chose to remain quiet are under a thick cloud of suspicion.
The Supreme Court (SC) said that the deal is a “direct challenge to the Indian legal process,” and that “it is a prosecutable offence.” The court also said that the agreement was void under Section 20 of the Indian Contract Act.
Somebody needs to be taken to task for this “prosecutable offence”; but who?
There are three parties who are directly involved in the deal that subverted the Indian law: the Italian government, the relatives of the slain fishermen and the boat owner, and the abettors (mediators) of the illegal deal that included the representative of the Catholic church.
Local media had reported that two Catholic priests, Father Churchill and Father Wilfred, among others, played a crucial role in the negotiations between the Italian government and the families.
There is a fourth and important party too: the state government that failed to take action against of violation of the law of the land. It was strange that the Italians were allowed to directly negotiate with Indians on Indian soil without the government’s knowledge.
Had it been any other country, say Pakistan for example, wouldn’t the first question be on national security?
Either there is a serious dereliction of duty or participation in an illegal activity. What was the local police and the Intelligence Bureau doing? Was there a conspiracy to let go of the Italians?
In fact the opposition leader VS Achuthanandan had pointed fingers at the state and central governments for an alleged conspiracy in the case.
"I suspect that there is a conspiracy in which the centre, state and some others are involved. How was it possible for the Italian authorities to enter into a dialogue with the families of the killed? Only an inquiry can reveal what transpired,” he had said on 28 April.
The state government’s omission has been glaring since the negotiations as well as the details of the deals had been widely covered by the local media. The supreme court also criticised the state government for not challenging its legality in an appropriate forum; and the high court, for allowing such an agreement.
“If two parties agree to a term which is against the law, what was the legal aid authorities doing” the Court asked. “How can a court put a stamp of approval and become a party to such an illegal agreement”
The court also asked how Doramma (wife of one of the victims) be taken out of the case through illegal means and how can her mouth be shut for Rs 1 crore.
Two fishermen, Ajesh Binki, 25, and Gelastine, 45, were allegedly shot dead by Latorre Massimillano and Salvatore Girone, the Italian naval guards aboard the ship Enrica Lexie, on 15 Feb off the southern Kerala coast. After considerable drama and diplomatic turmoil, the marines were arrested from the ship and sent to jail on remand.
Over the last two weeks, the Italian government had entered into separate monetary deals with the relatives of the slain fishermen and the boat owner following which the latter withdrew all the cases they had filed against the marines and the ship owner.
In addition, they also gave signed letters to the Italian authorities that said they didn’t want the Italians to be prosecuted and that they had forgiven them in the name of Jesus Christ.
What was most shocking, however, was their testimonies, in lieu of the compensation, that could jeopardise the case against the marines and the ship.
The most damaging was the statement by the boat owner, J Freddy, who said that the boat was cruising at high speed without headlights with an unlicensed Galastine on the driver’s seat when the incident occurred.
He also said that the ship had blared its siren and flashed its lights while the boat was approaching it. The relatives said that the incident occurred at 33 nautical miles, while the state government’s FIR said it was at 20.5 nautical miles.
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.
Right from the beginning, there were also allegations that the Italians were operating through the Catholic church.
The first evidence of such an influence came out in the open when Agenzia Fides in Rome reported that Cardinal George Alencherry “has taken an interest in mediating and seeking a peaceful solution to the delicate situation.
Fides had said that the cardinal had confirmed that “he has contacted the Catholic ministers who are in the government of Kerala”, announcing his constant interest until the case is “clarified and resolved peacefully.”
Although Cardinal Alencherry denied any such involvement and Fides withdrew its report, the involvement of the Catholic church has been too evident to ignore ever since the incident occurred.
Already under pressure from extremely clannish religious and community lobbies, the state Chief Minister Oomen Chandy is in a highly constrained space. On the one side, he has Achuthanandan and company alleging conspiracy, and on the other, he has the influential Catholic lobby.
In between, he also has a crucial by-election in which the (Latin) Catholic church has a decisive say.
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Updated Date: May 01, 2012 12:28:45 IST