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Italian marines case gets more complicated

World watched SC proceedings perceived to be rising diplomatic rift and opinion was divided on whose fault it was

Aditi Phadnis  |  New Delhi 

Italy today got a taste of the Indian decision making system when the Supreme Court asked Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini not to leave the country till 2 April and reminded him and Rome of the ‘unconditional undertaking’ Italy had given, promising the return of the two Marines under trial for murder. (See full court story inside).

The world watched Supreme Court proceedings in what is perceived to be a rising diplomatic rift and opinion was divided on whose fault it was.

Diplomats recalled that when the New York Police Department (NYPD) got a call from a woman in distress in 2003 and found that the call was from a woman of West European origin but had come from the New York residence of Munir Akram, Pakistan’s envoy to the US, the Manhatten District Attorney’s office pushed hard to prosecute Akram for a misdemeanour charge of third degree assault.

The DA’s office wrote to the State department to seek withdrawal of diplomatic immunity to Akram emphasising that violence against women was unacceptable. Following this, the State Department formally lodged its request with Pakistan on December 28, 2003. However nothing came of the effort.

Similarly, more recently, in 2011 Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor in Pakistan and a former Special Forces soldier, shot two Pakistani men, allegedly in self defence and was put in jail in Pakistan. The US mounted a huge operation to defend him. Apart from paying blood money, President Barack Obama threatened Pakistan with withdrawal of aid funds.

“We believe that diplomatic immunity is a fact. From our standpoint it is not a matter of dispute. It is certainly not a matter that should be resolved by courts in Pakistan," State Department spokesman P J Crowley said at a press conference causing outrage in Pakistan.Davis was eventually acquitted following payment of blood money and returned to the US.

Western observers said how India would deal with this case would decide if it was seen as a mature global power or a country engaged in an ego tussle.

In 2011, the former Foreign Minister of Libya, Moussa Koussa quit Muammar Gaddaafi’s government and sought refuge in England.

While Britain did offer him a safe house, they rejected immunity from prosecution for Koussa’s role in the Lockerbie bombing of 1988 which killed 270 people.

The last Indian case of diplomatic immunity against a criminal offence was the instance of Anil Verma, an IAS officer posted in London in the Indian High Commission. After an alleged assault on his wife who complained to British police, Verma was simply withdrawn from his assignment by the Indian government.

In this case, what if the Government of Italy asks Daniele Mancinin to return to Italy before 2 April ? Will Mancini heed his own government ? or the Indian Supreme Court ? No one seems to be able to answer the question but the balance of opinion is in favour of Italy.

First Published: Mon, March 18 2013. 18:42 IST