India and Italy negotiate mutual legal assistance treaty

India and Italy are in the process of fine-tuning a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) that would help the two countries get formal assistance in investigating criminal cases.

Although the two countries have held two rounds of talks, the final deal is believed to be stalled amid fears that the maximum penalty for heinous crimes in India will be the ‘death penalty’, while capital punishment has been abolished in Italy .

Earlier, Germany also refused to sign an MLAT with India on death penalty grounds.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, “mutual legal assistance is a mechanism by which countries cooperate with each other in order to provide and obtain formal assistance in the prevention, suppression, investigation and prosecution of crimes in order to to ensure that criminals do not escape or sabotage due process due to lack of available evidence in different countries”.

While India has so far signed an MLAT with 45 countries, India and Italy have yet to enter into a bilateral agreement on criminal matters.

In 2021, the Supreme Court formally closed criminal charges against two Italian sailors who shot dead two fishermen off the coast of Kerala in 2012 on the pretext that they were pirates. When the case went to trial, Italy refused to fire two of its marines who had returned to vote in the 2013 elections. The Marines only returned after India assured them they would not be subject to the death penalty.

Investigative agencies investigating the Agusta Westland helicopter scam in 2013 faced multiple obstacles when Italy refused to extradite Carlo Gerosa, one of three intermediaries wanted by the Central Bureau of investigation (CBI). He had argued in 2018 that the extradition could not take place because the two countries did not have MLATs or a formal extradition agreement. The extradition pact currently in place is limited to drug-related crimes.

The formalization of MLAT with Italy is also likely to help investigative agencies gain assistance in the investigation against the Sikh secessionist network operating from the country.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), in indictments filed in court in 2018 and 2019, said the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), a banned organization, planned and carried out eight incidents of targeted killings and assassination attempts in Punjab between January 2016 and October. , 2017 and all of the victims belonged to specific communities and organizations. The NIA found that the crime had its footprints in several countries, including Italy. KLF leader Harmeet Singh aka PhD was killed in Pakistan in 2020.

India and Italy held two rounds of talks on signing the bilateral agreement in April and May, a senior government official said. The final minutes have been agreed, but the treaty has not yet been signed.

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