NEW DELHI Feb 24 - India has dropped a plan to
prosecute two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian
fishermen under a tough anti-piracy law, a government lawyer
said on Monday, offering a chance to end a diplomatic row
between the two countries.
Italy had strongly opposed India invoking the law, arguing
that it would amount to treating the men as "terrorists" and
last week it recalled its ambassador to New Delhi in protest
against the delay in the two-year-old case.
The sailors, part of a military security team protecting a
privately-owned cargo ship, say they mistook the fishermen for
pirates and fired warning shots into the water during the
incident in February 2012, off the coast of Kerala state.
Indian attorney general Ghoolam Vahanvati told the Supreme
Court on Monday that the prosecution did not intend to proceed
against Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone under the
anti-piracy section of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts. He gave
"We want to delete the anti-piracy clause," he said. The men
can still be tried under India's criminal laws, but the
punishment there in case of a conviction is ordinarily less
stringent than under the piracy law.
The government had originally sought to prosecute the
marines under the piracy law partly because the incident
occurred outside the geographical area covered by the country's
It said, however, that the sailors would not face the death
penalty, which the anti-piracy law usually carries, because it
has not permitted the investigation agency handling the case to
invoke that particular clause in the legislation.
However, it was not clear whether a court would have had to
obey this selective block.
The dispute over the marines has provoked a public as well
as a political outcry in both countries. In India, supporters of
harsh penalties for the men have marched on the streets.
The Supreme Court on Monday said it would rule on whether
India's National Investigation Agency which handles cases
relating to national security should investigate the fishermen's
deaths at its next hearing. It gave no date for the next
The top court ruled over a year ago that a trial would take
place in India, but charges have not yet been filed. Defence
lawyers for Italy and the marines maintain that the incident
happened beyond India's jurisdiction.
The delays in filing charges, not unusual in India's
notoriously slow legal system, spurred Italy to approach the
apex court last month demanding a nod for the marines to return
home and a block on any use of the anti-piracy law.
The two men deny killing anyone or aiming directly at the
fishing boat. They are on bail but cannot leave India.
(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani;
Editing by Ron Popeski)