Efforts on to help Italian murderers escape Indian law?

via VR Jayaraj | Kochi - Daily Pioneer published on March 5, 2012

The Kerala High Court had on March 1 warned the Italian authorities – who were defending their two Marines who had shot to death two Indian fishermen – not to consider Indian laws as silly but the authorities in Kerala and in the Centre are now facing allegation that they are preparing the ground for the murderers and their abettors to escape the same Indian laws.

The Kerala Police had arrested Italian Marines Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone on February 19 for shooting two fishermen to death from aboard Naples-registered oil tanker Enrica Lexie but they are still enjoying life with all the comforts God’s Own Country could offer in a posh guest house in Kochi city instead of spending sleepless nights in a prison cell.

Legal experts point out that a similar situation could be seen in the case of the entire Enrica Lexie affair. The authorities in Kerala have not done anything significant so far to strengthen their case against the Italian Marines and the shipping company other than confiscating some weapons (“which they say include the killer guns”), according to experts.

“Even an ordinary police constable should know that the most vital evidences in a case involving a modern ship are its Voice Data Recorder and log book. It is being reported that the police have not got any data regarding the incident from the Enrica Lexie VDR. Also, they are yet to get the log book,” said a senior High Court lawyer.

The lawyer said that such errors in the Enrica Lexie case could not be seen as accidental because “there has been a pattern or systematic scheme” in the way the police have handled the entire fishermen-shooting episode. I don’t think the police can do this on their own if these errors are deliberate,” said the lawyer.

There are allegations that there has been a major shift – in the Italians’ favour – in the approach of the Kerala Police after the visits of Italian Foreign Minister Guilio Terzi di Sant’ Agata to New Delhi on February 28 and his Deputy Staffan de Mistura before that and their meetings with the arrested Marines.

The police are being accused of causing delays in fulfilling their legal commitment in the Enrica Lexie affair and they tend to justify these delays with the excuse of diplomatic complications. “This is a murder case, plain and simple. And the fact is that our police – for mysterious reasons – have failed in treating this as a real murder case,” said the lawyer.

The crime was committed on February 15 but it took more than four days for the police to arrest the two Marines on murder charge. It took ten days for the police to confiscate the weapons that (they think) were used for the crime from aboard the ship. Though the guns were seized on March 25, their preliminary forensic and ballistic tests started only a week later.

However, the most appalling aspect of the police proceedings so far is the alleged urgency they have shown in keeping the two Italian Marines in total comfort and not allowing the court, which had remanded them in two-week judicial custody on February 20, to keep them confined to a prison cell.

On February 20, the police earned the court’s permission to keep them in their custody for three days. On February 23, the day of Mistura’s visit to Delhi and Kochi, the police got them in their custody for seven more days. Two days after Giulio Terzi’s visit to Delhi and Kochi, the police asked the court for the Marines’ custody till March 5 and they got it.

Top police sources say that there has been no need for the police to keep the accused in their custody for so long as “no questioning or evidence-gathering” has been going on. The Italian soldiers were also spared of the torture of having to eat the normal Indian prison food and were allowed to enjoy “five-star food available on Willingdon Island”, sources say.

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