Italy must be told to stop meddling in Kerala murder case

New Delhi's failure to stand up to Italy’s meddling only validates Rome’s perception that India is a banana republic – and the course of justice can indeed be subverted one way or another.

FP Editors May 20, 2012 06:18:15 IST
Italy must be told to stop meddling in Kerala murder case

The gloves are coming off. Italy is increasingly interfering brazenly in the judicial process under way in India in the case of the two Italian marines who stand accused of murdering two Kerala fishermen.

In recent days, Italy has been cranking up diplomatic pressure on India by, first, recalling its ambassador to India and then summoning the Indian ambassador in Italy to convey its displeasure at manner in which the case is proceeding.

Italy’s deputy foreign minister Steffan de Mistura, who is visiting India, said that the “absurd accusation of premeditated murder” against the two Italian Marines was unacceptable to Italy. And in Rome, the Italian Foreign Ministry summoned India’s ambassador Debabrata Saha to convey its give voice to its displeasure over the trial.

Italy must be told to stop meddling in Kerala murder case

Italy is flexing its muscles, and India is caving in tamely. AP

Given Italy’s brazen efforts in recent months to subvert the trial by throwing money at the murdered fishermen’s families and by invoking the influence of the Catholic Church, the diplomatic overdrive – which also saw the Italian Prime Minister speak to Prime Manmohan Singh on three occasions – deserves to be beaten back. But so far we have seen precious little of interest in  that in New Delhi.

Perhaps the Italian government reckons that India is a banana republic – where the reckless rich can get away with murder. Perhaps they reason that the prosecution case can be whittled down steadily. After all, even while the case under the full glare of the media, the Additional Solicitor General Harin Rawal submitted before the Supreme Court that the Kerala police had no jurisdiction to investigate the case. Only the sense of outrage that that statement whipped up in Kerala compelled the Government to disassociate itself from the bizarre stand.

This isn’t the first time that the Italian government has pulled out its ‘big guns’, including the Vatican, in its defence of its two Marines.

The first suspicion of the interjection of the Catholic Church in the criminal case came within days of the shooting incident. A Vatican journal reported that Cardinal George Alencherry “has taken an interest in mediating and seeking a peaceful solution to the delicate situation.”

The journal noted that Cardinal Alancherry had confirmed that “he has contacted the Catholic ministers who are in the government of Kerala.” The Cardinal subsequently denied he was playing a mediatory role, which compelled the journal to withdraw its report, but the Church continued to play a role in negotiations between the Italian government, the ship owner and the families of the shooting victims.

Media reports in Kerala noted that two Catholic priests, Father Churchill and Father Wilfred had played a role in the negotiations between the Italian government and the families for payment of compensation to withdraw the cases.

The families, upon being paid ‘blood money’ – and under the influence of the Church – had dropped the cases they had filed against the Italians in three courts. But the Supreme Court said the agreement was illegal and constituted a “direct challenge to the Indian legal process”.

Having failed to secure its goal of subverting the trial by throwing money – and by invoking God – the Italian government is now resorting to the rather more direct diplomatic pressure. But thus far, we haven’t seen a robust pushback from the Indian government. With its failure to stand up to Italy’s meddling, New Delhi is only validating Rome’s perception that India is a banana republic – and the course of justice can indeed be subverted one way or another.

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