Egypt drops inquiry into murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni

By Ruth Michaelson

Egypt’s public prosecution has officially closed its investigation into the murder of Giulio Regeni, rejecting Italian prosecutors’ findings that accused four Egyptian security officials of kidnapping and torturing the Italian doctoral student in 2016.

Italy officially indicted four Egyptian security officials including two from Egypt’s national security agency in early December. The four men were accused of kidnapping Regeni, whose body was found on an outlying Cairo highway in February 2016 showing signs of torture. One of the suspects, named as Magdi Ibrahim Abdel Al Sharif, is accused of grievous bodily harm.

Italian prosecutors gave the four men 20 days to respond to the charges. On the day of the deadline, Egypt’s public prosecution officially closed its own investigation, after suspending it when Rome prosecutors released their findings.

Regeni’s murder rocked Italian-Egyptian diplomatic relations, leading to the brief recall of the Italian ambassador to Cairo and driving calls to suspend the country’s arms sales to Egypt. Investigators in Rome previously said Regeni had been entrapped “in a spider’s web” spun by Egyptian security agents.

Tensions are expected to flare again with a trial of the four security officials in 2021, predicted to take place in absentia. “The Egyptian authorities’ lack of response to our requests has impeded our inquiry,” said the lead prosecutor, Michele Prestipino, when Rome closed its own investigation.

In a long and rambling statement on Wednesday, Egyptian prosecutors hit back at their Italian counterparts’ findings as well as their five-year-long investigation into Regeni’s murder.

The Italian investigators’ findings were the result of “wrong conclusions”, they said, arguing that Rome’s accusations lacked evidence. They claimed Regeni’s murder was the result of unknown “enemy parties” seeking to drive a wedge between Italian-Egyptian relations, as evidenced by the discovery of Regeni’s body close to security institutions run by the national security agency on a day when an Italian delegation was visiting Egypt.

The statement also accused Regeni’s parents of removing evidence such as their son’s laptop from his Cairo apartment before Egyptian investigators could examine it, and claimed the UK and Kenya had ignored Egypt’s requests for details of key witness testimony provided to the Italians.

One of three key witnesses cited by Rome prosecutors, known as Gamma, reportedly told investigators that Abdel Al Sharif had been overheard at a security conference in Nairobi telling another officer: “We kidnapped Regeni. We thought he was a British spy.”

Other witnesses told Italian investigators they had seen Regeni in a Cairo police station and in Lazoghly, a large security facility run by the national security agency associated with enforced disappearances and torture.

As they closed their own investigation, Egyptian prosecutors attempted to frame Regeni’s behaviour patterns, research on Egyptian trade unions, sources of academic funding and activities as suspicious, but provided no information about who was ultimately responsible for his death.

“The victim’s behaviour and unusual movements were not hidden,” they said, citing details of his previous journeys to Turkey and Israel, nations often viewed as enemies within the Egyptian security establishment.

“Despite this unusual behaviour an investigation confirmed that his deeds did not pose threats to national security,” they added.

Regeni’s parents criticised Egypt’s handling of the case in early December. “In these five years, we have been overcome with indignation by the countless injustices on the part of the Egyptian authorities,” they said.