Kerala smells conspiracy in Enrica Lexie affair

published on April 29, 2012

From Catholic Cardinal Mar George Alencherry’s intervention on February 20 to the volte-face by the Centre in the Supreme Court on April 20 and the withdrawal of the victims’ kin and owner of the targeted boat in another week, the entire affair of the killing of two Indian fishermen in gunfire from Italian ship Enrica Lexie on February 15 still remains mysterious.

On Saturday, octogenarian Kerala Opposition leader VS Achuthanandan alleged that the victims’ relatives had settled their case by accepting whatever compensation Italy offered as the result of a huge conspiracy. Achuthanandan is not the only person in Kerala who thinks that there has been a conspiracy behind the lax handling of the Enrica Lexie affair by the authorities.

Legal experts are now certain that the withdrawals by the murdered fishermen’s relatives and the boat-owner and with the mysterious negative submission in the Supreme Court on April 20 by an assistant solicitor general have almost permanently sealed the fate of the high-profile murder case involving diplomatic significance.

In the past 73 days, Kerala had seen a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church arguing Italy’s case, hi-flying Western diplomats stalking the dirty lanes of a penury-ridden coastal village in Kollam, top-ranking Italian Ministers frequenting the jail where two of their Marines were in custody for murder and white-skinned priests talking with their brown-skinned brothers.

The April 24 withdrawal of the relatives of Valentine alias Jelestine and Ajesh Binku, who were shot dead allegedly by the two arrested Marines, from the case for the humiliatingly low compensation of Rs 1 crore each bringing a shadow of uncertainty over the criminal case, had forced Keralites to suspect that a locally assisted bid was on to derail the Enrica Lexie affair.

This suspicion has almost grown into a conviction with the withdrawal on Friday by Freddy J, owner of boat St Antony’s on which Jelestine and Binku were killed, of his petition against the Italians for a paltry compensation of Rs 17 lakh for the damages his boat suffered. Freddy’s withdrawal is more damaging to the case than that of the relatives as he is the chief witness in it.

Freddy has already done a recantation of the statement he had made to the police on February 15 which had become the basis of the FIR in the Enrica Lexie case. Observers, legal experts and the common man smell a rat in these withdrawals not merely because of the urgency seen in them but also due to the coincidence of several developments in a short time-span.

“From the very beginning of the case, we have been hearing the word mediation,” said a senior lawyer of the Kerala High Court. “What role can mediation play in a murder case? Surprisingly, the word mediation (though he later denied it) had come first from a Cardinal. It now seems that mediation itself has been behind all these developments that could destroy this case,” he added.

Legal experts also point out that the Italians would not have been able to strike the compensation deals with the fishermen’s relatives and the boat-owner with the help of their lawyers alone. “Obviously, people who could broker such deals by keeping the law and order machinery out of sight were behind it. That is where the suspicions of conspiracy come up,” said the lawyer.

Cardinal Mar Alencherry himself had stated in his interview to a Rome-based news agency that he had taken up the issue with Union Minister KV Thomas, an influential Catholic, and that he hoped to get help from Catholic Ministers in the Kerala Cabinet. People of Muthakkara in Kollam, Jelestine’s village, had said that Italian priests had been talking to Church authorities.

There were rumours that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, a person of Italian origin, had assured the Italians in the beginning of the case that ways to save the accused Marines could be found once the by-election in Kerala’s Piravam Assembly seat was over. Alencherry had spoken of the Piravam poll in the interview and the same had been talked about by the Italian authorities.

“On April 20, ASG Harin Raval told the apex court that the incident had taken place in international waters. In another seven days, all the aggrieved parties in the case signed agreements with the protectors of the accused and dropped their cases. Such coincidences do not occur in innocent settings,” said the lawyer, adding, “There could have been a clear plan.”

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