Foreign Minister: Prisoner exchange agreement with India ready soon
An agreement with India on the transfer of the ship guards sentenced on Thursday will be ready soon. The ship guards sentenced to jail in India would have the chance of serving their sentences in their own country, Estonian Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand said.
"It's a question of a few months, if not weeks. We have reached agreement on the text," Kaljurand told the news of the public broadcaster ERR.
On the Estonian side the agreement required only the government's approval, but India's domestic procedures could take longer, she went on to say.
According to Kaljurand, Estonia decided to go for a prisoner exchange agreement because the men’s offence was punishable in Estonia as well.
Police in India's southernmost state Tamil Nadu arrested 35 crew and maritime security personnel on board the anti-piracy vessel Seaman Guard Ohio on 18 October 2013. 14 Estonian citizens were arrested, alongside Britons, Ukrainians, and Indians.
They were charged in December of the same year with illegal refueling, illegal handling of firearms and illegal entry into territorial waters, and released on bail in April 2014.
The case was returned by India's Supreme Court to the Tuticorin magistrate court, which on 11 January 2016 sentenced the men to five years' imprisonment. The ship guards decided at the end of last month to appeal the verdict rather than seek a pardon.
Kaljurand commented on the state of the Foreign Ministry’s work in the Riigikogu’s session on foreign policy on Thursday, reaffirming that they were communicating on a day-to-day basis both with the Estonian citizens and their next of kin, and informing them about developments. "At this point we know that they have appealed the court's verdict and their lawyers are preparing an appeal to a higher court. Whatever they will do, whatever decision they will make, we will support and help them," Kaljurand said.
The foreign ministry has so far provided 120,000 euros in unsecured loans to the ship guards sentenced to jail by an Indian court.