What a surprise! Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that could witness the interests surrounding the the two Marines sent back to the Indian authorities. But, in the hours during which the Italian Government was negotiating with the Indian Government, all in a sudden the Indian Minister of Defense gave the green light to a deal with Finmeccanica. Its subsidiary WASS – based in Livorno – won a $300 million tender to supply advanced Black Shark torpedoes for Indian submarines, Indian Defence Ministry sources said.
Allegations by Atlas Elektronik of Germany that the contest had been rigged to favor WASS have been rejected after careful study, ministry sources said, and the procurement is ready for the final phase of contract negotiations. Atlas had charged that the procurement process was not transparent, and that some aspects of the user requirements, especially pertaining to integrating the interface of the torpedo with the Scorpene submarine, were tailor-made for WASS, a ministry source said. The Italian company has a collaboration with DCNS, which builds the Scorpenes. WASS officials declined to comment. Ukrainexport from Ukraine and Rosoboron-export of Russia also competed, but were eliminated earlier in a technical evaluation.
The potential order for torpedoes for the Scorpene submarines could grow with additional torpedo requirements for the proposed purchase of six submarines by the Indian Navy. A total of 98 torpedoes are to be procured; the seller would provide 20 torpedoes and the remaining 78 would be license-produced.
An Indian Defence Ministry official said the recent scandal involving the helicopter VVIP program with Finmeccanica unit AgustaWestland did not influence the decision with WASS. But, at this point it’s normal to think that the decision to return the two Italian did influence the deal.
Yesterday, Mario Monti’s caretaker government on Thursday reversed a March 11 decision not to send the marines back from a home visit after Rome secured a promise from New Delhi that the two would not face the death penalty if convicted, officials said. The marines, part of a military security team protecting a tanker from piracy, are accused of shooting two fishermen off the coast of the southern Indian state of Kerala in February 2012. They say they fired warning shots at a fishing boat believing it to be a pirate vessel. The sailors, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, arrived back in India on Friday aboard an Italian air force plane, Indian media reported.
India and Italy have been embroiled in an escalating row over the marines, who had been allowed home to vote in the Italian elections in February on condition they returned to India by Friday.
Angry reactions in Italy
Michele Emiliano, the mayor of Girone’s hometown of Bari, said he had been comforting the marine’s “despairing” family. “A hypocritical government is trying to end its embarrassment by sending the sailors back to India after exhibiting them as ‘free’ during the election campaign,” Emiliano wrote on Twitter.
La Repubblica newspaper, in aninterview published Friday asked Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi whether he was considering resigning over the marines case. “Minister, was it worth raising our voices with India and reach such a low point in diplomatic ties if now we’ve been forced to send them back?” the paper asked. “I really think so,” replied Mr. Terzi, arguing this helped bring India to the negotiating table. He said he saw no reason to resign.
Rome was earlier worried that the two marines – Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, who are accused of shooting and killing two Indian fishermen last year – risked the death penalty if tried in Indian courts. Indian officials have since told the Italian government that the two men are not punishable with death under Indian law. This assurance persuaded Italy to announce Thursday that it would return the marines to India as agreed. Mr. Terzi said he was also worried about rising tensions with India. “There were worries regarding the safety of our ambassador,” he told La Repubblica.
On Friday, this headline dominated the homepage of the right-leaning newspaper Il Giornale: “Monti humiliates the whole of Italy – the marines return to India.”“Now that New Delhi flexed its muscles, [the government] changes its mind and sends them back in the lions’ den,” the paper added. There is still a chance the marines will return to Italy, but only after the end of their trial in India, say experts. “If ultimately they are convicted, the normal rule would be for them to serve time in an Indian jail, but there are precedents of countries allowing people to serve jail time in their own country,” says Katherine Reece-Thomas, an international law expert from City University London. “As it is reported that Italy and India have an existing prisoner transfer agreement, this is a likely outcome,” she added.
Happy reactions in India
While in Italy the decision was seen as an “embarrassing climbdown.” Meanwhile, in India, New Delhi saw it as a political triumph.Here’s a roundup of how Indian politicians responded to Rome’s announcement
Indian politicians welcomed Rome’s decision. Foreign Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid hailed the development as a diplomatic victory. “You should not write off diplomacy too soon,” Mr. Khurshid told reporters outside Parliament. “Diplomacy continues to work even when everybody thinks everything is lost,” he added. In a statement tabled in India’s lower house of Parliament, or the Lok Sabha, Mr. Khurshid said he was “glad that the matter has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. “There are no deals, no conditions,” he said at a press conference after Parliament adjourned Friday, a reference to local media reports which claimed the government had promised Italy lenient sentences in exchange for the marines’ return. “I am happy that the integrity and dignity of the Indian judicial process has been upheld,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who earlier warned Italy of “consequences” if it didn’t return the marines as promised.
Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, also saw it as a victory for India. “It has vindicated India’s diplomacy and the pro-active articulation of India’s perspective with the Italian Government as today,” he told reporters outside Parliament. “India’s tough stand as articulated by the PM and Sonia Gandhi have worked,” tweetedR.P.N. Singh, the minister of state for home affairs.
In Kerala, too, the central government was credited for pushing Italy to return the marines. Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said he wanted to “thank and express gratitude to the Supreme Court, the Centre and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the firm stand they took on the issue. “I am happy they are coming back,” the wife of one of the slain fishermen told news channel NDTV, thanking the government for their efforts. V.M. Syam Kumar, a lawyer who represented relatives of one of the two dead fishermen, said he hopes the move “would considerably reduce the India-Italy diplomatic tiff.”
“Issues, including restricting the movement of the Italian ambassador, can finally be put to rest,” he said. “Of course, the marines returned due to efforts by the highest echelons of the Indian government, but the cooperation of the Italian government must not be undermined,” he added.