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India Said to Summon Italy Envoy to Protest Decision on Marines

March 12 (Bloomberg) -- India will summon the Italian ambassador to protest the decision by his government not to return two marines charged with killing Indian fishermen they suspected of being pirates in seas off Kerala state.

The Ministry of External Affairs will ask envoy Daniele Mancini why the men will not be coming back to New Delhi to face trial, according to an Indian official, who asked not be named because he is not authorized to discuss the matter. In a petition to India’s Supreme Court, the Italian government had guaranteed that the men would return.

The prosecution of the Italians was the first attempt to hold armed maritime guards accountable for the deaths of innocent people in an anti-piracy operation. Relations between the two countries were further strained by allegations that bribes were paid by a unit of Italy’s Finmeccanica SpA to secure the contract to supply 12 civilian helicopters to the Indian government.

“They will never face justice now,” said John Churchill, a Catholic priest who is general secretary of the South Asian Fishermen Fraternity and a cousin of one of the dead fishermen. “It is an insult to all of India.”

Opposition lawmakers disrupted India’s parliament to protest the Italian decision. Legislators in both chambers demanded to know what the Indian government would do to bring the men back after they returned home to vote in Italy’s elections.

A person who answered the phone at the Italian embassy in New Delhi asked for all queries to be sent by e-mail. An e-mail sent seeking comment from Mancini was not immediately returned.

‘Conspiracy’

Mancini had informed the Indian authorities that Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone “won’t return to India,” the European nation’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday. The Italian government said India failed to respond to a request to negotiate a diplomatic solution.

India’s government was informed of the Italian move late yesterday and will make no further comment until it has reviewed its position, said Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party accused the government of working with the Italian government to end the diplomatic standoff.

“This is unacceptable and we will not allow the government to get away with this criminal conspiracy,” Tarun Vijay, a BJP lawmaker, told reporters.

The marines were due to return to New Delhi to be tried for the killing of the two fisherman in waters off the southern state of Kerala in February 2012. The marines were acting as guards on the Italian-flagged Enrica Lexie tanker as it sailed to Egypt from Singapore, a route that includes crossing the Indian Ocean, where Somali pirates operate.

Christmas Leave

They were allowed to return to Italy for Christmas after the Italian ambassador gave a guarantee the men would be returned. Mancini gave the same guarantee that the men would return in petition to the Supreme Court.

The arrest of the Italians triggered a diplomatic rift between Italy and India as they presented different versions of the attack. Italy has argued that the men shot the two fishermen in self-defense and that the marines should be tried in their own country because the incident occurred in international waters outside of India’s jurisdiction.

Ferrari Protest

Ferrari SpA, the Italian sports carmaker, even weighed in, having two of its cars carry the flag of the Italian navy during the Oct. 28 Formula One grand-prix race in New Delhi.

India’s Chief Justice ruled in January that the two men could be put on trial in New Delhi, ordering hearings before a specially convened court in the capital.

Separately, India’s government has ordered an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the alleged graft in the helicopter purchase and is threatening to cancel the deal if any wrongdoing is uncovered.

Finmeccanica Chief Executive Officer Giuseppe Orsi has been arrested on accusations of corruption and tax fraud as authorities probe alleged illegal payments tied to the contract. The company has denied the charges.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lorenzo Totaro in Rome at ltotaro@bloomberg.net; Andrew MacAskill in New Delhi at amacaskill@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Craig Stirling at cstirling1@bloomberg.net

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