x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Italian envoy to India 'has no immunity', court says

Supreme court indefinitely extends order barring diplomat from leaving the country after rejecting explanation for Italy's refusal to return two Italian marines charged with killing two Indian fishermen.

NEW DELHI // India's supreme court today rejected the Italian ambassador's explanation for his country's refusal to return two Italian marines charged with killing two Indian fishermen, and indefinitely extended its order barring the diplomat from leaving the country.

The ambassador, Daniele Mancini, had given the Indian court a written promise that the men would return to India by March 22. Last week Italy announced that the men would not go back. The court then barred Mr Mancini from leaving India and asked him to explain his position.

Chief justice Altamas Kabir responded angrily yesterday when Mr Mancini, through his lawyer, said his promise represented his government's position, which had changed. Mr Kabir said Mr Mancini's pledge was a personal one, and he had broken it.

"We never expected the Italian government to act in this manner," Mr Kabir said.

Mr Mancini also cited his own diplomatic immunity in opposing the court's order. The next court hearing is set for April 2.

The dispute has damaged relations between India and Italy. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has said there will be consequences if Italy does not return the two marines. Yesterday, the foreign ministry said "the entire expanse of our relations with Italy" was being reviewed.

Syed Akbaruddin, a foreign ministry spokesman, said India was bound by the directives of the supreme court and would abide by them.

The marines, Massimilian Latorre and Salvatore Girone, were part of a military security team on board a cargo ship when they fired at a fishing boat in February last year, killing the two fishermen. The marines said they mistook the fishing boat for a pirate craft.

The court had allowed the marines to leave India in February to vote in Italian elections and to celebrate Easter.

Italy maintains that the shooting occurred in international waters and that Rome should have jurisdiction. India says the ship was in Indian territorial waters.

The Italian foreign ministry said last week that Italy would not return the marines because India's decision to try them was a breach of their rights, but that it was open to international mediation.