New Delhi: With the diplomatic tussle between India and Italy intensifying over the latter’s refusal to return two Italian marines, accused of killing two Indian fishermen, the Supreme Court on Thursday restrained the Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini from leaving the country.
The apex court passed its order in response to a PIL filed by Janata Party chief and advocate Subramanian Swamy and the submissions made by Attorney General G Vahanvati in the Italian marines’ case.
The apex court then issued a notice to the Italian envoy asking him not to leave the country till further orders. The apex court also issued a notice to the Italian government and the two marines, accused in the fishermen killing case, to file their reply latest by March 18.
Ahead of the apex court order there were speculations that the Indian government might take some punitive action and expel the Italian envoy Daniele Mancini.
Amid reports of differences within the government over the Italian Ambassador’s diplomatic immunity, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Thursday met Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at his residence and discussed the issue.
Post the SC order, Khurshid said it is now up to the court to take decision in the matter. The Attorney General will inform the court the government`s stand, the minister said, while underlining, "We will do everything to uphold India`s pride."
Earlier, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai who met the Italian Ambassador said, “Italy’s stand is not acceptable to us. Italy is obliged to ensure that marines return to India as per their assurance.”
Italy’s refusal to return two of its marines- Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone- accused of killing two Indian fishermen from Kerala, has triggered a political storm with Opposing accusing the government of entering a secret deal to allow the two Italians to go back home.
Media reports also alleged a deal between the Italian and Indian government that would have allowed the Italian marines to go home even if they had been convicted.
The fast pace of developments come amid reports that the Italian government possibly conned the Supreme Court to allow the marines to return to Italy by telling them that there were no provisions for them to cast their votes in India.
In an undertaking submitted to the Supreme Court, the Italian envoy had taken responsibility to ensure that the Italian marines return back to India for their trial.
However, on Monday, the Italian government refused to send back the two marines charged with the murder of Indian fishermen in Kerala.
The Home Ministry has asked the External Affairs Ministry to ensure the ambassador is not able to invoke his diplomatic immunity, the MEA has cited the Vienna convention to say doing so would affect Indian diplomats abroad.
Sources also indicate that the Italian Ambassador may be asked to leave. The Italian ambassador to India, Daniele Mancini, has, however, said that he will not leave India until he is made persona non grata, meaning an unwelcome person, over the Italian marines row.
"I will not leave this country till a competent authority makes me persona non grata.. I am more than glad to live in this country for years to come," he told reporters on the sidelines of a function when asked whether he was afraid that he may be asked to leave the country.
Meanwhile, Italy has insisted it is on solid legal ground in seeking international arbitration in the case. Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi told reporters in Israel, "We have jurisdically solid reasons to proceed in the direction of international arbitration The Indian government is amply apprised of all it needs to know about our reasons, as do many of our partners."
There was ruckus in Parliament over the issue on Wednesday with the BJP claiming collusion between New Delhi and Rome. Following this, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned Italy of grave consequences if the marines were not sent back for trial in the case.
"They have violated every rule of diplomatic discourse and call into question solemn commitments given by an accredited representative of a government," Singh said in the Lok Sabha.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy also met the Prime Minister and discussed the issue on Wednesday. After the meeting, Chandy said the marines will have to come back to India to face trial in the Kerala fishermen murder case.
The Supreme Court had given them permission to stay out of the country only till March 22.