Tensions mount over Regeni case

Gamal Essam El-Din , Friday 7 Dec 2018

The investigation into the killing of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Cairo in 2016 reaches a critical stage

Commemoration of Giulio Regeni
Commemoration of Giulio Regeni in January 2017, who was found dead on a Cairo highway the year before (Photo: Reuters)

Italian prosecutors have placed five Egyptian officials under investigation in relation to the death of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni in Egypt in 2016, Italian News Agency ANSA reported on Tuesday.

They are being probed for their claimed involvement in the disappearance of Regeni.

Earlier in the week Italy's foreign ministry had summoned the Egyptian ambassador to Rome to urge Cairo to conclude the investigation into the murder of Regeni nearly three years ago.

The move came a day after Italian foreign minister Enzo Moavero, who visited Cairo in August, issued a statement saying the "search for truth in the killing of Regeni remains a priority in relations between Italy and Egypt".

He pledged the foreign ministry would take all necessary steps to ensure justice is served.

On 2 December a judicial source told the official Middle East News Agency (MENA) that Egypt had opposed an Italian request that officers in Egypt’s security services be named as suspects in the Regeni killing.

The judicial source said the request to add the security personnel to a list of suspects was made during a meeting in Cairo on 28 November.

"Italian prosecutors asked during the meeting that a number of Egyptian national security agents be named as suspects in the murder of Regeni. The request was rejected," said the source. "Italy made a similar request in December 2017 which Egyptian prosecutors also declined."

The source said Egyptian prosecutors refused the request in 2017 because the Egyptian legal system does not include provisions for a "suspect list" and there was insufficient evidence to implicate the agents in the case.

He said Italian investigators were suspicious of the policemen simply because they had conducted surveillance on Regeni, though this was a normal part of their duties as security agents.

Regeni, 28, was conducting research into trade unions in Egypt when he disappeared in Cairo on 25 January 2016. His body was found by the side of a road outside the city eight days later showing signs of torture.

Matteo Renzi, then Italy's prime minister, recalled Rome's ambassador in Cairo to protest what he said was a lack of cooperation in investigating the case.

In September 2017 Paolo Gentiloni, Renzi’s successor as prime minister, decided a new ambassador should return to Cairo.

The move came after high level contacts between Rome and Cairo resulted in a decision that judicial authorities in the two countries would together investigate Regeni’s abduction and grisly murder.

The judicial source told MENA that during the 28 November meeting Egyptian prosecutors had responded to Italy’s request to name the security personnel by demanding the Italian authorities investigate why Regeni had entered Egypt on a tourist rather than a student visa.

An MP and political analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al-Ahram Weekly that "recent developments in the Regeni case make it clear more investigation is needed”.

"There are questions that have to be answered by the Italian side, including why Regeni entered Egypt on a tourist visa even when he was intending to conduct academic research."

"It would be a very hasty step if the Italian prosecutor named Egyptian security officers as suspects in the case. It is a very complicated investigation and as far as Cairo is concerned, I think it will reject any attempts to prosecute security officers in the absence of compelling evidence."

Roberto Fico, speaker of the Italian parliament, announced on 29 November that Italy's Chamber of Deputies was suspending parliamentary relations with Egypt until the investigation into Regeni's death is concluded.

Fico told Italian television channel RAI on Friday that "the Italian's prosecutor's decision to name Egyptian suspects in the Regeni murder next week is the right decision”.

“It is strong and courageous decision, and a necessary one given Cairo prosecutors are not moving forward with the case."

Fico said he had decided to suspend parliamentary relations with Egypt "until there is a credible investigation that brings results".

Egypt's parliament released its own statement on 29 November expressing regret over the suspension of relations.

"This is a premature and unilateral decision that does not serve the investigation into the death of Mr Regeni," said the House of Representatives.

"Fico's decision signals a jump to hasty conclusions and does not serve the goal of revealing the truth and ensuring justice."

Egypt's parliament said it was “committed to the rule of law and not intervening in the work of the investigation authorities” and insisted “unilateral measures do not serve the interests of the two countries."

"Italy is wrong if it thinks such moves pressure Egypt,” said another parliamentary source.

"These moves are surprising. They follow a number of top-level meetings between Egyptian and Italian officials after which all participants expressed satisfaction over the progress of the investigation into Regeni's death."

Egypt’s House of Representatives’ own statement expressed surprise "that Mr Fico issue such an unjustified decision on behalf of the Italian parliament".

"The statement was made after Egyptian and Italian prosecutors held a joint meeting on 28 November to discuss the Regeni case. The two parties exchanged viewpoints in a positive atmosphere and confirmed they were determined to continue their cooperation until a final result is reached."

According to the parliamentary source "it is clear that once Egyptian prosecutors rejected the Italian request on 28 November Rome decided to apply pressure”.

“Over the two days that followed we saw a flurry of provocative statements from Italy's foreign minister and speaker of parliament."

The House of Representative’s own statement said it was committed to “the principle of the rule of law” and that the investigation must proceed “in a climate of integrity and neutrality without politicising legal issues".

Egypt's parliament said the Egyptian state has a clear interest in revealing the truth about Regeni's murder.

"Egypt's parliament urges that the investigation into the case be allowed to run its course in line with the principle of the rule of the law, without any influence or intervention in the work of the investigating authorities."

"Egypt adopted a reserved position when Italy hastily recalled its ambassador in 2016 and in the end this resulted in Rome sending a new ambassador," noted one MP.

"I think the state authorities – the president, the foreign ministry and parliament - will adopt a similarly reserved position and refuse to escalate if Italy decides to up the ante next week."

Many MPs interviewed by the Weekly argued that Rome was unlikely to take any actions that will damage relations with Cairo given Italy’s business interests in Egypt. They also agreed that Egypt is unlikely to surrender any suspects from the security forces.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 6 December, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Tensions mount over Regeni case 

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