Italian marines
Italian sailors Salvatore Girone (right) and Massimiliano Latorre Reuters

The Italian government's refusal to send back its marines charged with killing two Indian fishermen is a blatant betrayal. It has not only shocked the country but also caused a storm in Parliament which is currently in budget session.

Italian marines Massimiliano Lattore and Salvatore Girone were arrested for the murder of two fishermen off the Kerala coast in February last year, while on anti-piracy duty of guarding an Italian oil tanker. They were permitted by the Supreme Court to go home and vote in Italy's general election held last month but refused to return to India for trial.

India expressed its seriousness in Parliament on Wednesday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warning Italy of consequences in the relation between the countries if the Italian government fails to keep its word. He also requested the Houses to take the matter seriously and act together.

"Our government has already made it clear that these actions of the government of Italy are not acceptable. They violate every rule of diplomatic discourse and call into question solemn commitments given by accredited representative of a government. This cannot, by any standards, be in the interests of any bilateral relationship that has to function on the basis of trust," said the PM in Parliament.

"I urge the Italian authorities to respect the undertakings to the Honourable Supreme Court and return the two accused persons to stand trial. We will continue to urge this course of action through diplomatic channels. If they do not keep their word there will be consequences for our relations with Italy." 

The Ministry of External Affairs reacted strongly after the Italian government conveyed the message that the two marines would not be sent back to India. The Foreign Secretary on Tuesday summoned Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini and conveyed India's stand on the matter in the strongest of terms saying, "India expects Republic of Italy as a country that is committed to the rule of law to fulfill the sovereign undertaking given by it to the Supreme Court of India".

The two marines were allowed to stay in Italy for a period of four weeks by the Supreme Court of India only on assurance by the Italian envoy that they would be sent back to India under the care, supervision and control of the Italian Republic after the completion of the stipulated time.

The unprecedented breach of trust could lead to complete diplomatic breakdown between the countries. New Delhi is expected to act tough, including shutting down Italy's embassy in India and closing its own embassy there if Rome doesn't send back the accused marines. All ties between the countries could be cut off completely, including diplomatic visits and cancellation of business contracts with Italian companies.

Now, all eyes will be on India's future course of action rather than harsh rhetoric, as strong action could be used as a deterrence from such incidents in the future.

Indian Government Didn't Learn From Past Mistakes

India has a history of being soft on cases like that of the Italian marines who refused to return for further trial in spite of assurance from the Italy government to send them back after the stipulated time of four weeks set by the Supreme Court.

Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, the accused in the Bofors scandal and family friend of the Gandhis (Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi), left India on the night οf 29 July, 1993, before the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) could question and detain him in connection with the case. It was alleged that the release was part of a deal between Sonia Gandhi and the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao.

The CBI finally filed a charge sheet against Quattrocchi in 1999 in connection with the Bofors bribe scandal. The case against him was strengthened after Interpol exposed two bank accounts - one belonging to him and the other to his wife Maria with Euros 3 million and $1 million, respectively - which were frozen. The government of India released it in 2006 without the consent of the CBI.

Quattrocchi was arrested in Argentina in 2007 following a warrant by Interpol, but India lost the extradition case with the judge stating that India did not provide proper legal documents. The court also ruled that India pay legal expenses of Quattrocchi's case. The CBI came under severe criticism for not trying hard to ensure his extradition. The case was closed eventually.

A similar escapade happened in 1996 when two French men who were accused of spying never returned to India for further trial after leaving for their country.

French nationals Francois Clavel and Elle Philippe were detained by Kerala Police in 1996 after their yacht anchored off Kochi coast, and a case was filed against them for spying. However, they were allowed to visit their home by the court after the French government intervined and assured that they would be sent back to India for trial once the stipulated time expires.

The accused persons never returned to India and the French government failed to keep its word. The CBI could not trace them despite efforts to nab them with the help of Interpol.

In yet another mess, India is still fighting for extradition of Kim Davy from Denmark, the prime accused in 1995 Purulia armed drop case. Five Latvians and a British national were arrested in connection with the case where an aircraft dropped huge quantity of arms and ammunition in West Bengal's Purulia district, but the main accused Davy managed to escape.

India has been pressing the Denmark government for Davy's extradition since the incident happened, but hasn't been successful. The closest in securing the extradition was in 2010 when the Danish government passed an extradition order, but a court reversed the order in its ruling.

India severed its diplomatic ties with the Denmark, including minimum diplomatic contact after Denmark government refused to file a fresh appeal in the Supreme Court against the ruling of a lower court that turned down the government's previous order. The Indian government issued a circular in 2012 not to meet or entertain any Danish diplomat posted in the country.