If one day Giulio Regeni ever gets justice, it will be due only to the work of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Rome, which has never let go, despite the fact that, in its battle against deception from the Egyptian side, it has certainly not gotten much support from Italian politics, nor by the successive governments, all too complacent with the regime of Al-Sisi.
Wednesday, almost five years after the kidnapping and murder of the researcher from Friuli, who disappeared in Cairo near his home on January 25, 2016 and was found dead on February 3, Prosecutor Michele Prestipino and Deputy Prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco, in charge of the case, requested the beginning of the trial of the four members of the Egyptian intelligence services which have been the subjects of the investigation that ended in December. General Tariq Sabir, Colonels Athar Kamel and Usham Helmi and Major Magdi Sharif of the Egyptain National Security are accused of multiple counts of kidnapping, conspiracy to commit aggravated murder and conspiracy to commit aggravated bodily harm (the crime of torture was introduced into our legal system only after the events in question).
The Italian investigators also had their sights on 13 more people (including the agent Mahmoud Najem, also investigated but for whom a formal end to the investigation has been requested), about whom, however, it was not possible to collect sufficient evidence, because the Egyptian authorities have always put up “a wall of reticence and evasiveness,” as Davide Bonvicini, first secretary of the Italian Embassy in Cairo at the time of the events, testified before the commission of inquiry. This wall has certainly not crumbled due to the repeated displays of “indignation,” also exhibited Wednesday: “Now the Cairo authorities have the opportunity to cooperate with Italian justice and we demand that they do so,” railed the M5S deputies who sit in the Foreign Affairs Committee and in the parliamentary inquiry committee for the death of Giulio Regeni, for instance.
It is very likely that there will be no cooperation from the Egyptian side this time either, when the judge presiding over the preliminary hearings will examine the question of the lack of legal domicile for the defendants, which could affect the trial. According to Italian law, a trial cannot proceed if there is no certainty that the four Egyptian intelligence agents have been notified. Already in April 2019, this matter was the object of a letter rogatory signed by the then-Chief Prosecutor, Giuseppe Pignatone, and requests have been sent several times in recent years. However, according to the public attorneys defending the four defendants, no response ever came.
At the beginning of the hearing—which could be scheduled for May—the judge will have to decide whether the Egyptians’ refusal to elect a domicile could result in stopping the trial; or whether, given the strong media presence of the case in Egypt, the case is sufficiently well known to deem that the defendants must know their judicial position in Italy (the four members of the National Security have been in the register of suspects since December 4, 2018). In this case, the trial could still take place, even if the absence of an international convention on judicial cooperation between Italy and Egypt could still hinder the course of justice if a final conviction is reached.
Furthermore, as explained by Prosecutor Colaiocco on December 10 to the commission of inquiry chaired by Deputy Erasmo Palazzotto, “the original investigative proceedings against unknown persons opened on February 4, 2016, in which we have always hoped to shed further light on responsibilities and on the reconstruction of events through additional elements that should, we hope, come from the Egyptian authorities or from other witnesses who may finally come forward and illuminate the events that occurred in those days,” has never been closed. However, it is now a matter of not wasting this first result obtained, “extremely important and not to be taken for granted,” won at high cost. Because, as Colaiocco explained in his deposition at the Palazzo San Macuto, “we owe it to Giulio and to our role as magistrates of this Republic.”