“Egypt closes the case and restricts it against an unknown and an Italian accusing five policemen.” Thus was the summary of a joint statement by the Egyptian Prosecution, which declared the failure to find the identity of the killers of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni in 2016. The statement indicates Egypt’s desire to close the case file, in which it did not cooperate with the Italian authorities, which accused five security leaders of being involved in the arrest, torture, and murder of Regeni. Regeni, 28, disappeared in January 2016 in the Egyptian capital, and his body was found about a week later. An examination of the body showed that he had been tortured before his death.
The killing caused a diplomatic row between the two countries, as Italian prosecutors accuse Egyptian officials of trying to mislead the investigations. Italian investigators suspect that the Egyptian security forces targeted the student because he researched independent trade unions, a topic of political controversy in Egypt. A source at the American University in Cairo previously revealed three people who studied labour relations in Egypt and ended up being arrested and deported and have been prevented from entering Egypt again since 2011.
However, Regeni’s murder, according to the prosecution’s statement, remained a mystery, and the security and intelligence services could not reveal his secrets or reach a single thread leading to the perpetrator, and the prosecution ended the matter to close the case. However, prior to this closure, the prosecution claimed that it had “found solid evidence that members of a gang forming part of the coercion of stealing Regeni’s belongings, as those related to the residence of one of the formation members were found.” But she added that the “perpetrator” of the killing of the student is still unknown. It is noteworthy that the Egyptian authorities claimed at first that Regeni died in a traffic accident before retracting this story, after revealing that he had been beaten and tortured.
On March 25, 2016, Egyptian investigators claimed that a criminal gang of five people killed Regeni and that all of them were subsequently killed in an exchange of fire. An incident raised questions about the police not arresting them instead of killing them, while the police, in turn, responded, saying that they were keen to arrest them but that they first opened fire and responded to them, killing all of them. At the time, Italian officials described the story as “unbelievable,” prompting the authorities to later retract it, without revealing the truth about the five people’s unlawful killing.
Media outlets revealed at the time that Regeni’s belongings, which were quickly shown by the Egyptian government a few hours after the killing of the five men, were brought specially for filming, next to the bodies. The Egyptian authorities handed over these belongings last July to their Italian counterparts, but the Regeni family refused to receive them. This rejection was due to Regeni’s parents’ shock that these personal items belonged to Giulio. They said they were old things and that the person who sent them wanted to mislead the investigation into the murder case and to appear as if they belonged to him.
The Italian public prosecutor had previously stated, last year, before a parliamentary committee, that Egyptian officials “fabricated unreal stories to skew the investigation.” Returning to the joint statement, it included explicit accusations by the Rome prosecutor of five officers belonging to security services that were involved in the killing of Regeni, despite their assertion that these are “individual actions by these persons, without any connection to any governmental bodies or institutions.” Even this individual accusation Egypt had reservations about. Still, a testimony published by La Repubblica Italian newspaper, in the middle of last year on which the Rome Prosecutor relies, confirms the arrest, torture, and murder. According to the testimony given by a person who wiretapped an Egyptian intelligence agent speaking about Regeni, the Egyptian authorities arrested the Italian student. They beat him, thinking he was a British spy.
The Egyptian officer agent said, “We thought he was a British spy … we stopped him, and after we put him in the car, we had to hit him … I myself hit him repeatedly in the face,” according to Corriere Della Sera newspaper. The conversation in Arabic dealt with the unstable situation in Egypt at a police conference in an African country (the report did not name it) in 2017, and it was transferred to Italian investigators. Following this testimony, the Italian authorities asked their Egyptian counterpart to provide more information, which did not happen.
Faced with this rejection and the information obtained by the Rome Prosecutor, the Italian prosecution announced its intention to end the investigations into the incident, with suspicion of five individuals belonging to security services, considering this as individual actions against these persons. However, adding the phrase “with the individual actions of them (of the five suspects), without connection to any government agencies or institutions,” to the statement raised widespread doubts.
According to politicians and human rights defenders, the victim was not in a dispute with the suspects to make them torture and kill him. Nevertheless, investigators at the Italian Attorney General’s office intend to bring the investigation file to the judiciary. After hearing the investigators’ statements, the judge will decide whether the evidence is sufficient to turn the case into a criminal trial. In this case, lawyers will be assigned to defend the accused, and a memorandum will be sent to the Egyptian embassy in Rome because it is the representative of the Egyptian government, and if the five defendants are convicted, a warrant will be sent to Interpol to stop them.
According to observers, there is Egyptian political pressure to reduce the consequences of this case and its impact on the relations between the two countries, and close the case so it’s not considered a state crime proving murder within the security services, ordered by them. Observers attributed the continuation of the case to increased internal pressure on the Italian government from Regeni’s parents and the solidarity of the opposition and civil society organisations. This comes despite what appeared in previous years that Egypt deliberately ignored and procrastinated in parallel with the Egyptian regime’s endeavor to bypass the incident, whether with arms deals or trade relations, and others.