The second Italian marine held in India over the killing of two fishermen at sea will be allowed to return home while United Nations judges consider where he should be tried, a top court in New Delhi ruled Thursday.
Salvatore Girone was arrested in India with another Italian marine, Massimiliano Latorre, in February 2012. Both are suspected of shooting dead two Indian fishermen while performing anti-piracy duties on an Italian tanker passing through the Indian Ocean.
As part of the relaxed bail conditions set by the Supreme Court of India, Girone has to surrender his passport to the Italian government when he arrives home and regularly report to local police, his lawyer told dpa.
The UN's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), based in Hamburg, was called last year to settle a jurisdiction row between the two nations, but is not expected to reach a verdict before 2018.
It has to decide whether the marines should be tried in Italy, accepting Italian arguments that the shooting incident took place in international waters, or on India, on the grounds that it happened in waters within New Delhi's jurisdiction.
The Italian ambassador in New Delhi was asked to give an undertaking that Girone would return to India within a month of the arbitration court's decision if that went in India's favour, the Girone's counsel said.
Rome and New Delhi have argued about the case for more than four years.
Thursday's decision by the Indian Supreme Court followed up on an April 29 ruling from another international tribunal, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration. It said that Girone should be allowed to stay in Italy until the ITLOS makes its judgement.
Latorre was allowed home in 2014 on medical grounds, after suffering from a stroke. Before that, the two marines both lived on bail inside the premises of the Italian embassy in New Delhi, and had been given only temporary permits to travel to Italy.
Even if their legal travails are far from over, the pair are likely to be given a heroes' welcome on June 2, when they are expected to take part in a military parade in central Rome to celebrate Republic Day, an Italian national holiday.
"We reiterate our friendship towards India, its people and its government. And we give our welcome to marine Girone, who will be for us on June 2," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who is taking part in a G7 summit in Japan, wrote on Twitter.
Opposition politicians also welcomed Girone's return, but warned Renzi not to exploit his successful repatriation for political purposes. Three days after the parade, local elections are scheduled in Rome and other big cities.