Updated: June 18, 2015 10:32:30 am
Amid the controversy over Lalit Modi’s links with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, it has emerged that the former IPL chief had contacted a Mumbai lawyer last October to seek advice on a diplomatic tangle — the murder case in India involving two Italian Marines.
When contacted by The Indian Express, the lawyer Zulfiquar Memon confirmed the approach and said Modi sought advice on “how the case should be handled” as “someone higher-up wanted to know”.
Memon added that he visited Modi in London while on his way back to India from a trip to New York in October, and handed over a report prepared by him on the case.
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Memon said he also asked Modi what his interest was in the case. “He just said someone higher-up wanted to know. No name was mentioned by him. I found him well-briefed on the case and left some points with him on “contiguous waters” (international maritime boundaries), how the pleas should be handled and so on… Once I returned, we discussed the matter again over phone, but I do not know what happened afterwards,” Memon said.
Modi did not respond to requests seeking comment.
The murder case involves two Italian Marines — Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone — who were arrested for allegedly shooting dead two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast in 2012, after mistaking them for pirates.
A case challenging India’s jurisdiction in the case has been underway in the Supreme Court since 2013, with Italy arguing that the incident took place in international waters.
In February 2014, the previous UPA government dropped charges against the Marines under the stringent anti-piracy law. This led to a legal logjam with the Marines challenging the jurisdiction of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the case.
Today, Girone is in India awaiting trial but Latorre is in Italy after obtaining bail from the Supreme Court to travel to Italy for heart surgery.
On September 12, the NDA government supported Latorre’s plea on “humanitarian grounds”, and did not object to his pleas seeking extension of bail on two further occasions — January 14 and April 9.
The case, meanwhile, threatened to snowball into a diplomatic crisis when the European Parliament passed a resolution in January, calling for the return of the Marines and a change of jurisdiction in the case. It also hit plans for the European Union to host a summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Detailing the background behind his interaction with Modi, Memon said, “I was visiting New York and met Lalit Modi in London on my return journey to have what I can describe as an academic discussion on the Italian Marines case. Lalit had spoken to me about the case earlier and asked if I was in transit via London (and) if we can discuss it. He wanted advice on how the case should be handled and so I prepared a sort of report.”
Memon added: “It is not as if I wanted to take up the case or anything. At that stage, there was a deadlock over the case. I know Lalit socially and we spent some time discussing it at his London residence.”
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