An Italian marine accused of killing two fishermen in India returned home on Sunday pending a ruling on where he should be tried in a long-running case that has soured ties between the two countries.
Salvatore Girone, who was being held at the Italian embassy in Delhi for four years, is one of two marines arrested in 2012 over the fishermen’s deaths allegedly during an anti-piracy operation off the coast of Kerala.
The other marine, Massimiliano Latorre, was allowed to return to Italy in 2014 after suffering a stroke.
The marines claim they fired on the fishing boat because they thought the Italian ship they were assigned to protect, the Enrica Lexie, was under attack.
The Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that he was free to go home at least until Italy’s dispute with India over jurisdiction in the case is over, but that he must surrender his passport when on arrival in Italy. Girone will be required to return to India within a month of an order from a tribunal in The Hague.
Italy insists the oil tanker was in international waters at the time of the incident, while India argues the case is not a maritime dispute but “a double murder at sea”, in which one fisherman was shot in the head and the other in the stomach.
In an effort to end legal wrangling, both countries last year agreed to move their dispute to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which ruled Girone should be allowed to return home earlier this month.
Italian defence minister Roberta Pinotti embraced the uniformed Girone when he arrived at Rome’s Ciampino airport. He was also greeted by the foreign minister, the navy’s top admiral and relatives.
His wife, children and father rushed onto the plane for an emotional reunion, after which he was met on the tarmac by Italy’s foreign and defence ministers, raising his clasped hands in a sign of victory.
The newly reunited family was expected to travel to Bari in southern Italy, where locals had planned a homecoming party.