ENRICA LEXIE CONTROVERSY
Fishermen demand probe on the people who mediated the deal
A Catholic priest from Tamil Nadu is said to have made large amounts of profit from the compensation deal
The fishermen and social organisations in Kerala have demanded that the state government ordered a probe on the circumstances that led to the families of poor fishermen, who were killed by Italian marines, to accept a compensation Rs one crore from the Italian government and sign documents pardoning the killers in an out of court settlement. Kerala Latin Catholic Association has written to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to order a judicial probe into the circumstances that led to the agreement involving the bereaved families and the Italian government.
Felix J Pulluden, the founder president of KLCA, in his letter to CM Chandy alleged that the mediators in the deal have pocketed large sums of money for brokering peace in the issue. T Peter, Convener of Kerala Independent Fish Workers Federation, told Tehelka that the government should carry out a detailed probe into the case and punish the mediators who took a cut from the actual amount of compensation.
“We welcome the Supreme Court ruling and demand a probe against people who fooled the victims’ families. The whole affair has spoiled the image of poor fisher men,” said Peter. The families of deceased Selestian Valentine and Ajeesh Pinku had accepted Rs one crore each and signed documents pardoning Italian marines in the name of God in Lok Adalat court, Kochi. However, the SC viewed it as a case of the families accepting compensation and signing documents pardoning killers as an attempt to sabotage the Indian criminal justice system.
“The SC has upheld justice for the fishermen community. Now we want to know who had struck the deal and negotiated with the families. I doubt a foul play behind the whole episode. In fact, the poor fishermen were cheated by mediators,” said Peter.
KLCA leader Felix Pulluden also suspected wider conspiracy behind the families accepting the money. “As far as I know, Father John Churchil Bass, who belonged to Institute Voluntas Dei religious order mediated with the families. He offered Rs one crore each to two families and Rs 17 lakh for the boat owner Freddie. They all signed documents prepared by counsel for Italian government. Since the SC has termed the deal as illegal, it’s the duty of the government to find out who benefited from the illegal deal,” said Pulluden.
NK Premachandran, former minister who represented Chavara where Selestian’s family lives, told Tehelka that the whole affair needs detailed investigation by both state and the Central agencies. “I’m not against victims’ families receiving compensation. They should get adequate compensation for their great loss which no amount of money can replace. But the poor fishermen were conned and forced to sign an agreement which lowered the esteem of the Indian judicial system. I suspect a wider conspiracy behind the deal,” said Premachandran, a lawyer by profession.
Tehelka has found out that the controversial priest who mediated the deal is based in Periyavilai, a coastal village in Kanyakumari district. He is running a fisherman’s organisation based in Manavalakurichi. Repeated attempts at calling him went unanswered.
The priest along with another Italian priest visited the families and offered prayers during the Easter week. Father John Churchil was present when the fishermen families received money at Kochi.
Meanwhile, the SC on Wednesday granted conditional release to the Italian oil tanker Enrica Lexie. The owners of Enrica Lexie approached the apex court for release of the vessel, which was detained by the coast guard at Cochin port after the killing of two fishermen off the Alappuzha coast. The division bench ordered the release of the ship after securing a bond of Rs 3 crores and signing an affidavit stating the owners of the ship would produce four witness whenever Indian courts made such a demand.
Jeemon Jacob is Bureau Chief, South with Tehelka.