The Italian Foreign Ministry has warned Egypt that Italy will “consider escalation” unless judicial proceedings against a list of Egyptian security officials suspected of involvement in the 2016 torture and murder of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni take place before the end of this year, an Egyptian official tells Mada Masr on Sunday.
Italy’s stipulations were communicated to Egypt in a Friday meeting in Rome between Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi and Egyptian Ambassador to Italy Hesham Badr, who had been summoned after Cairo’s “promised breakthrough” failed to materialize in a Wednesday meeting between Egyptian and Italian prosecutors, Italian judicial sources told Reuters.
Badr was told that Egypt has six months to begin a trial in the case, adds the Egyptian official, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity. If Egypt fails to meet these conditions, Italy may take further measures, including submitting a request to the European Union to take action against Egypt.
There have been a series of sudden developments in Italian-Egyptian relations tied to the Regeni case over the past week, including the severance of ties between the countries’ legislatures. Information coming out of Egypt’s state media and the Italian prosecutor’s decision to formally name suspects suggests that Italy’s inclusion of Egyptian security figures in the investigation may be at the heart of the matter.
On Sunday, an Egyptian judicial source informed of the Wednesday meeting between the states’ prosecutors — which the Egyptian public prosecution described as “positive” — told the state news agency MENA that Egyptian prosecutors refused to question any security officials, a request first made by Italy in December 2017.
Egyptian prosecutors reportedly told their Italian counterparts that Egyptian law does not recognize “suspect lists,” and that there is not enough evidence against these suspects to prosecute them, the judicial source added. Instead, the Egyptian side submitted a request for an investigation into Regeni’s entry into Egypt on a tourist rather than a student visa, according to the source.
After the lack of progress in the meeting, Italy took unilateral action, both through its own judicial channels and via diplomatic pressure.
Italian news agency ANSA reported on Thursday that Italian authorities will identify and begin investigating seven Egyptian security officials accused of involvement in Regeni’s death.
Sources told the Italian media outlet that Italian prosecutors will reveal the identities and begin formally investigating “Egyptian police and secret service agents who were recently identified by Italian special police units.”
This move was preceded, however, by cooperation between the two sides, something Moavero stressed in the Friday meeting with the Egyptian ambassador. According to the Egyptian official, the Italian foreign minister stressed that Italy had “shown understanding” before in excluding high-profile names from their list of suspects.
Moavero’s comments align with what Mada Masr reported in April 2017, when an Italian government official disclosed that Italian investigators had narrowed down an initial list of 26 suspects to 10 Egyptian politicians and officials they believed to be responsible for Regeni’s death.
“In order to preserve the relations between the two countries, names of politicians and officials working in sovereign executive bodies have been removed from the list,” the source said. “The responsibility of some of them is limited to knowledge of the crime, given their positions. We also removed the names of those who intervened in the case after Regeni’s death.”
“There are 10 names left, and this is all we can do to preserve relations with Cairo. We expect Cairo to show the same level of care, understanding that the political and economic ties between the two countries do not allow for the case to be dropped,” the source continued, adding that the list was based on information gathered from several cities.
Regeni, a PhD candidate who was researching independent trade unions in Egypt, disappeared from a metro station on January 25, 2016 — the fifth anniversary of the 2011 revolution — while on his way to meet a friend in downtown Cairo. His body was found several days later, bearing marks of severe torture, on the side of a highway on the outskirts of the city.
Almost three years after Regeni was killed, there has been little progress in the case, despite Italian investigators having enough evidence to identify suspects over a year ago.
Egyptian prosecutors handed over surveillance footage, as well as other material relevant to the case file, to Italian investigators in late May, shortly after ANSA reported that a Russian technical team working alongside Egyptian investigators had started retrieving footage from the metro surveillance cameras in operation on the day of Regeni’s disappearance.
In September 2016, Egyptian authorities admitted to having placed Regeni under police surveillance, but have repeatedly denied any involvement in his death.
The bevy of evidence, however, has come up against wider political and economic interests for the two countries.
According to an Egyptian source that spoke to Mada Masr over the summer, since last year’s return of the Italian ambassador to Cairo — who was recalled in April 2016 over the stalled investigations — Italy has been seeking to make up for lost economic opportunities and solidifying its sway in regional politics, especially with respect to Libya and cooperation on fighting “illegal” immigration.
However, an Italian source who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity at the time said that, while the Italian government is keen to reinstate close collaboration with Egypt in some areas, “this does not mean that it will be able to completely let the [Regeni] case pass just like that, because the family and the media are constantly raising the issue.”
In June, a statement issued by the United Nations Human Rights Council on behalf of the European Union called on Egypt to “shed light on any alleged case of enforced disappearances and on the circumstances of the death of Giulio Regeni and Eric Lang and bring about justice.”
Correction: In a previous version of this article, it was incorrectly stated that Italy’s Foreign Ministry had stipulated a six-month timeframe for Egypt to issue a verdict in the case.