"We would not have been able to negotiate the current conditions, which envisage (good) conditions of everyday living and guarantee that the death penalty will not applied," Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzia told an Italian publication.
Good living conditions are being interpreted as a sort of house arrest under the care of the Italian ambassador. Marines Massimiliano Latorre andSalvatore Girone returned just in time to keep Rome's commitment to the Supreme Court that the officers will return after a four-week furlough to vote in the Italian election.
Italian deputy foreign minister Staffan de Mistura, who accompanied the marines back to India, said the "suspension" of affidavit given in Supreme Court was a difficult decision but added that the Italian law against death penalty is so strict that Italy needed a guarantee.
"The solution was triggered by a letter from Indian authorities which was a very comprehensive letter and official letter guaranting to the Italian authorities that in this case there is no question that death penalty could even be envisaged and at the same time the marines upon their return will have the same status that they had on their departure," Mistura said.
While foreign minister Salman Khurshid asserted that no deal had been struck, he admitted in Parliament that India had assured Italy in writing that there would be no death penalty for marines.
Govt in a fix
However, in his statement to Parliament on Friday, Khurshid clearly said, "Notwithstanding the pending proceedings, the government has informed the Italian government that the two marines will not be liable for arrest if they return within the time frame laid down by the Supreme Court of India, and shall once again be bound by the conditions contained in the order passed by the Court on 18th January, 2013."
The minister added: "... and that, according to well settled Indian jurisprudence, this case would not fall in the category of matters which attract the death penalty, that is to say the rarest of rare cases."
The assurance that the marines will not face death penalty was touted by Italy as a major concession as the sentence violates European Union law but it put the Indian government in a fix for pre-judging the likely charges that can be brought to bear against the marines.
Opposition spokespersons were quick to allege that the government had made commitments when it was not certain or clear if the marines were to be charged for murder that can result in a death sentence.
The Indian government stance indicates that it feels the marines are liable to be sentences under section 304 that deals with culpable homicide not amounting to murder which can draw a maximum sentence of 10 years.
The reading seems to be based on the assessment that the marines fired on the Indian fishermen presuming them to be pirates off the coast of Kerala and the act was not one of pre-mediated murder or a willful crime committed with planning and intent.
However, the flaunting of the assurances by Italian ministers puts the government in a difficult situation.
Mistura claimed that the likely sentence became an issue for the Italian government when the SC ordered setting up of a special court to try the soldiers. He said a special court should be established "as soon as possible" as Rome wanted "justice and clarity".
"During the bail, there was an indication that a special court would be established. That was the moment when the issue of death penalty became a crucial aspect…