India is considering a proposal from Somalia for a “plea bargain” for 120 pirates, including a few dreaded warlords, who were arrested in 2011 and are facing a trial in Maharashtra, a move that comes shortly after the Narendra Modigovernment went soft in the case against the Italian marines.
Under the proposed plea bargain agreement, the accused will get to admit their guilt without going through a trial in exchange for lesser punishment.
Two senior government officials told ET that the MEA has asked the home ministry to consider the proposal, but added that the home ministry is dead against the idea.
“It is a proposal from the Somalian side. We have just asked the MHA and the law enforcement agencies to consider what can be done with it,” an external affairs ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.
However, according to the MHA, this is not permissible under the law.
“Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, a new section inserted in 2006 allows plea bargaining but only in cases in which the maximum punishment is imprisonment for seven years. In this case, charges of murder, hijacking and waging war against the Indian government along with Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act have been clamped which come with a life or a death sentence,” a home ministry official said. The official, who did not wish to be identified, added that the external affairs ministry has still asked the home ministry to seek legal opinion on the proposal.
An email sent to the Embassy of Somalia remained unanswered and the embassy could not be contacted on phone despite many attempts.
In the separate case of the two Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone– who had allegedly killed two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast in 2012, mistaking them for pirates – the Modi government is considering a proposal from Italy to settle the case amicably. The accused were arrested but the trial is yet to start. India, however, allowed Latorre to return to Italy last year for a few months on medical grounds.
The home ministry has meanwhile somewhat relented on another demand from the external affairs ministry to attempt fast-tracking of the trial against the Somalian pirates. “We have asked the Maharashtra government to try and fast-track the trial. It should be understood that the government has no role in this. It is a matter purely between the prosecution authority and the defence. The prosecution can drop its witnesses if it finds it feasible,” the home ministry official said.
The trial could be a long-drawn one as it involves testimonies through video-conferencing by a number of foreign witnesses who were rescued from the clutches of the pirates by the Indian Navy – India is in touch with various countries to arrange these video-cons from its embassies. The home ministry has, however, warned that the 120 Somalian pirates in a Mumbai jail include some dreaded criminals and warlords, and that they should not be shown any leniency, the official added.
The pirates were arrested by the Indian Navy in multiple raids in the high seas in 2011 – nearly half of them were nabbed when the Navy intercepted the pirate mother vessel, Vega 5, in the Arabian Sea about 600 nautical miles from India’s west coast.
The rest of the lot was arrested after the Navy and the Coast Guard intercepted Al-Murtuza, an Iranian ship which had been hijacked by the pirates in the Arabian Sea. Seventy hostages belonging to Thailand, Philippines, Bangladesh, Iran, Turkey, Myanmar and Pakistan were rescued from this ship by the Indian Navy, and 21 AK-47 rifles and two rocket-launchers seized. It was later revealed that the pirates had earlier also taken control of Vega 5, a Mozambican fishing vessel, following which they had demanded a ransom of $20 million for releasing hostages.