Italy Said to Investigate Five Egyptian Suspects Over Disappearance of Student

December 4, 2018 Updated: December 4, 2018

ROME—Italian prosecutors have placed five members of Egypt’s security forces under official investigation for their alleged involvement in the disappearance of student Giulio Regeni, a judicial source said.

Regeni, a 28-year-old postgraduate student at Cambridge University, vanished in Cairo in January 2016. His body was found almost a week later and a post-mortem examination showed he had been tortured before his death.

There was no immediate comment from authorities in Egypt. Egyptian officials have repeatedly denied any involvement in Regeni’s killing.

The five suspects are all members of the National Security Agency and include a general, two colonels, and a major, the source said. They have been placed under investigation for allegedly kidnapping Regeni. No one has been named in connection with the killing itself.

Under Italian law, being placed under official investigation doesn’t imply guilt and doesn’t automatically lead to a trial.

Regeni disappeared on Jan. 25, 2016—the fifth anniversary of the start of the 2011 uprising that ended the 30-year rule of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Pointing to the signs of torture, human-rights groups such as the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms and Amnesty International suggested in 2016 that Regeni could have been killed by Egyptian security services.

Intelligence and security sources told Reuters in 2016 that police had arrested Regeni outside a Cairo metro station and transferred him to a compound run by Egyptian homeland security.

Italian and Egyptian investigators have been working together to try to solve the crime and have held regular meetings in Rome and Cairo to pool their information.

Sensitive Studies

However, judicial sources in Rome told Reuters that Italy was frustrated by the slow pace of developments in Egypt and had decided to press ahead with its own line of inquiry in an effort to move things forward.

Egypt’s state information service said Dec. 3 that Italy had sought Egypt’s approval for listing “a number of Egyptian policemen” as suspects during a meeting of the prosecutors from the two countries last week.

It said such a request had already been rejected in the past because Egyptian law didn’t recognize the procedure for placing suspects under investigation before possible charges are laid. It also cited a lack of solid evidence for the request, which, it said, was “merely based upon initial police inquiries.”

The judicial sources in Rome said that among those placed under investigation Dec. 4 was a colonel who had met Italian prosecutors during their first visit to Cairo in February 2016. He had assured them that local security forces had had nothing to do with the disappearance of Regeni, the same judicial sources said.

Regeni had been researching Egypt’s independent unions for his doctoral thesis. Associates say he was also interested in alternatives to the long-standing domination of Egypt’s economy by the state and the military.

Both subjects are sensitive in Egypt. The military’s grip on the economy is a subject rarely talked about in a country that has been ruled almost entirely by the military since the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952.

By Domenico Lusi