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New Delhi: India and Italy are inching closer to signing a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) for cooperation in investigation, prosecution and prevention of crime, including trans-national organised criminals and terrorism, officials said.

Both the countries have already held two rounds of negotiations where agreed minutes were signed, paving the way for the finalisation of the MLAT by New Delhi and Rome soon.

The minutes were signed at the second round of meeting held recently by Joint Secretary (Coordination and International Cooperation) in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Saheli Ghosh Roy, and Stefano Opilio, Director General for International Affairs and International Judiciary Cooperation, Italian Ministry of Justice.

Talks have been going on in the right direction and the MLAT between India and Italy is expected to be signed soon, an official privy to the development said.

An MLAT is an agreement between two or more countries for the purpose of gathering and exchanging information in an effort to enforce public or criminal laws.

This assistance include examining and identifying people, places and things, custodial transfers and providing assistance with the immobilisation of the instruments of criminal activity.

The negotiations between India and Italy for the MLAT were started following improvement of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Ties between the two countries were earlier strained due to the killing of two Indian fishermen by two Italian marines off the coast of Kerala in February, 2012.

Two unarmed Indian fishermen were gunned down onboard fishing vessel St Antony by two Italian marines — Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre — on board oil tanker Enrica Lexie after mistaking the fishermen as pirates.

The accused were let off after a judicial order that led to Italy depositing Rs 10 crore as compensation to the victims in June 2021.

The compensation is a mutually agreed amount between India and Italy in terms of the award by an international tribunal.

The Ministry of Home Affairs is the nodal Ministry for concluding MLATs which are designed to facilitate widest measures of mutual assistance in investigation, prosecution and prevention of crime, service of summons and other judicial documents, execution of warrants and other judicial commissions and tracing, restraint, forfeiture or confiscation of proceeds and instruments of crime, another official said.

These agreements assume importance in combating transnational organised crimes, trans-border terrorism, crimes and other serious offences, such as drug trafficking, money laundering, counterfeit currency and smuggling of arms and explosives.

India has so far signed these treaties with 44 countries including Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cambodia, Egypt, France, Hongkong SAR, Iran, Indonesia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Oman, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, The United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, USA and Vietnam.

India along with other SAARC countries had signed a Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters in 2008.

India has since ratified the convention but a few other SAARC countries are yet to sign it.

The convention aims to strengthen regional cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of crime.

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