Egypt and Italy… a judicial struggle between the Rehini killers and the smuggling of antiquities

A judicial race took place between Cairo and Rome, in two prominent cases related to the killing of an Italian researcher four years ago, and another in the smuggling of antiquities from Egypt. The first case pursues Egyptian security personnel, and the second involves two Italians, one of whom is a former diplomat. The first case, known in the media as Giulio Regeni, is of an Italian researcher whose body was found dead in Cairo in February 2016. This caused Italy to summon its ambassador to Cairo, Maurizio Massari, two months after the incident, to hold consultations, before Rome named another, Gambaolo Cantini, who arrived in Cairo in September 2017.

In conjunction with the discussions between the Attorney General of Egypt and Italy, Cantini led rounds of confidence-enhancing meetings between the two countries, with meetings and statements that markedly separated the Regeni file and the relations. Cantini’s most prominent statement was on July 31, after a meeting with Egyptian Minister of Industry Nevin Jameh, in which he said that the Egyptian-Italian bilateral relations are deep and historic, especially in the economic field. However, the Regeni case returned to the fore last month, as the Egyptian Public Prosecutor, Hamada Al-Sawy, confirmed, in a joint statement with the Italian authorities, that the person who killed Regeni is still unknown and is being searched for, and the investigation file will be closed temporarily.

Meanwhile, the Rome Prosecutor announced its “intention to produce the suspects, who belong to security services, to the preliminary investigation judge in Rome to assess him and take judicial measures, on their individual actions, without any connection to any Egyptian governmental bodies or institutions.”

In this regard, “the Egyptian prosecution fully expressed reservations about this suspicion and did not support it,” stressing that it is “based on non-firm evidence, and affirms its understanding of the independent decisions that will be taken by the Rome Prosecution,” according to the joint statement. On December 10, Italian prosecutors named 4 Egyptian security personnel as suspected suspects in the Regeni case. In a not-so-distant context, the European Parliament issued a resolution criticizing Egypt’s human rights file on December 18 and supporting Rome’s judicial position regarding his accusation against Egyptian security personnel. Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that holding a trial in the case of the disappearance and murder of Regeni represents “a way to reach the truth that is expected to be shocking.”

About a week after the public prosecutor’s statement in Italy, the Egyptian Interpol demanded, according to local reports, Rome to extradite two former Italian diplomats who had worked in Cairo, against the background of the well-known case of “smuggling major antiquities,” which dates back to mid-2018. Among the Italian diplomats, Cairo requested was Skakal Otakar, the former Italian consul in Luxor. Otakar was convicted in absentia on January 24 of last year for smuggling about 22,000 historical artifacts to Italy during 2016-2018, in which he worked in Egypt.

Egyptian media reported that Otakar received a 15-year prison sentence with an increased penalty and a fine of one million Egyptian pounds (about $ 66,000). The Egyptian media indicated that the other diplomat demanded by Cairo is called Massimiliano Sponzili, who previously worked in the Italian embassy as a commercial commissioner, who helped Otakar. On December 24, the Court of Cassation (the country’s highest appeals court / its verdicts are final) decided to view the appeal filed by Boutros Ghali, the Egyptian accused in the case with Otakar, over his 15-year prison sentence, to the January 14 session for the verdict.

The court will likely support the ruling against him definitively for not submitting an appeal, provided that he will be retried as soon as he surrenders or is arrested. There is no extradition treaty between Italy and Egypt, and if neither of the accused in the two cases is extradited, they will be tried in absentia.

Not far away, there were Egyptian attempts with Rome to open an investigation into the case of an Egyptian disappearance in Italy, where in mid-March 2016, Adel Moawad’s disappearance was raised in Italy in conjunction with Regeni’s case confusion. At the time, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi considered, in an interview with the widespread Italian newspaper “La Repubblica,” that the killing of Regeni in Egypt and the disappearance of Moawad in Italy were “individual incidents.” But talk of that issue later disappeared. In late November, private Egyptian newspapers published reports about the loss of 7 Egyptians in Italy without finding them, criticizing the lack of human rights talks about them like Regeni.

It quoted the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (non-governmental), calling for the international community, the Italian government, and the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clear the forcibly disappeared Egyptians’ fate. Followers see that the murder of Regeni has put the Sisi regime in a tough situation.

The Italian prosecution, according to observers, separated the regime from the accused and made it an “individual act” that will not have a radical impact on relations in light of the fact that Cairo and Rome are economic partners and there are many files of interest to the European Union that bring them together in Egypt. However, the horizon still bears more European criticism against Cairo without translating into a direct or indirect impact on the Egyptian regime’s relations.