By Mada Masr –
Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio sent a letter to Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Wednesday to request the legal residences of five Egyptian security officials suspected of involvement in the 2016 murder of doctoral student Giulio Regeni in order to inform them of their indictment, according to La Repubblica.
“The lack of a response from Egyptian judicial authorities to the requests of the Italian public prosecutor’s office represents a serious impediment to reaching the truth in Giulio Regeni’s death,” Di Maio writes in the letter, adding that the requests for legal residences were initially sent in May 2019.
In order to proceed with a trial in absentia, Italian law requires that defendants be notified of their indictment.
According to an Egyptian government official close to the Regeni case who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, the top prosecutors in Rome and Cairo will meet on July 1 to discuss the case.
Di Maio’s decision to send the letter to Shoukry follows a week of mounting pressure on Italian officials over a proposed 1.2 billion euro sale of two Fremm frigates to Egypt, part of a much larger arms deal between the two countries that is still in the works and is estimated to be valued between 9 and 10 billion euros, which would make it the largest military acquisition in Egyptian history.
“Bilateral relations between Italy and Egypt cannot move forward without the truth of Giulio Regeni’s death being told. This is why we need a quick reply to the letters of request, specifically regarding the notification of the legal domiciles of the suspects,” Di Maio writes in the letter to Shoukry.
However, Egypt does not seem prepared to budge. The Egyptian government official says that any planned trial will certainly complicate Egyptian-Italian relations, adding that Egypt will not provide information on the Egyptian security officers to Italy.
Opposition to the deal in Italy was headlined by Democratic Party Secretary Nicola Zingaretti, who wrote a letter this week addressed to the government, which was published in full in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. In the letter, Zingaretti stressed the importance of receiving information from Egyptian authorities that would allow Italy to notify the five Egyptian security officials that Rome prosecutors placed under official investigation last year of their indictment.
Italian prosecutors have been investigating Regeni’s killing in coordination with Egyptian officials, but after more than four years, no one has been charged.
La Repubblica reported on Tuesday that Di Maio had extricated himself from the political debate over the deal, “placing all political responsibility for the transaction in the hands of Conte,” after he previously insisted that the deal had yet to be completed in a Parliament briefing on June 10. At the time, Di Maio stressed the need to continue to “demand the truth from the Egyptian authorities via real, substantive and effective cooperation” in the investigation into Regeni’s murder, while also expressing concern over the continued detention of Patrick George Zaki, the Egyptian student who was pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Bologna and was arrested at the Cairo airport in February as he was returning to Egypt to visit his family.
Di Maio’s reversal on the issue, however, has put him under pressure, according to La Repubblica, as various members of the Five Star Movement, the Free and Equal Party and the Democratic Party have been petitioning for the foreign minister to reconsider the arms export to Egypt.
Di Maio is a key figure for the opposition to the deal because the Foreign Ministry’s National Authority—UAMA (Unit for the Authorization of Armament Materials) will have the final say on its approval.
“It’s all on UAMA’s table,” a government source is quoted in La Repubblica as saying. “UAMA authorized the conclusion of the transaction, and very soon there will be authorization for the export.”
However, La Repubblica also quotes the director of UAMA, Alberto Cutillo, to explain the process of authorization and how there is still a chance “politics could swing things in any direction.”
According to Cutillo, an arms deal must pass through two stages of approval in which UAMA gives the final nod: first, when the contractual framework is announced, and second, once a company presents a written request for the authorization of the export of military materials. In the second stage, once UAMA gives initial approval to the written request, the deal is passed on to the Interministerial Advisory Committee for consideration. When this phase is completed, the deal comes back to UAMA, which must then sign the agreement and forward it to the customs agency.
Cutillo adds that the Egyptian-Italian arms deal has received authorization from the Cabinet, pointing to Conte’s approval on June 11. Now, authorization on the export has been sent to UAMA for final approval.
Conte is also facing push back. While he was able to smooth over the divides within his Cabinet that had forced him to initially table the arms deal at a meeting on May 28, he faces renewed pressure from the Italian Parliament, who summoned him on June 10 for a hearing.
Conte appeared before the Italian parliamentary commission of inquiry into the murder of Regeni last night, where he was interrogated for two hours about the investigation into the researcher’s death.
The commission was established in April 2019 in order to move the stalled investigation forward but has no legal power over Conte. Nonetheless, Italian lawmakers asked the prime minister on Thursday a variety of questions, challenging the steps he has taken as the head of government to resolve the case.
“The Egyptian judiciary hasn’t provided an answer to the note that the Rome prosecution sent over a year ago. As such, not only was it impossible for the Italian judiciary to interrogate those individuals who were found to be responsible for the homicide, torture and kidnapping of Giulio Regeni, but it was also impossible to attend their interrogations in front of the Egyptian judiciary. What diplomatic action has taken place to make sure that not all of this relies on the bilateral relations between Italy and Egypt?” MP Ricardo Magi asked Conte.
Conte responded, by saying that relations between the two countries were not being developed to their full potential because of the Regeni issue. However, the commission also pushed back on this notion.
“In what areas are relations between the two countries not developing to their full potential?” Democratic Party MP Lia Quartapelle asked the prime minister. “Eni found one of the largest energy deposits in the region in Egypt. Tourism isn’t decreasing. At the start of your presidency, Italy was ranked 42nd in the provision of arms to Egypt. In 2018, we moved up to tenth in the volume of arms trade. And in 2019, we became the largest supplier of arms to Egypt.”
According to the French newspaper La Tribune, the Italian-Egyptian arms deal comes in the context of Italy and Germany increasing their arms exports to Egypt as France has decreased its arms sales following French President Emmanuel Macron criticism of Egypt’s human rights record during his first visit to Cairo in January 2019. Between 2014 and 2018, France was the largest arms exporter to Egypt, accounting for 37 percent of sales, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
MP Erasmo Palazotto, the president of the commission, concluded the hearing by saying that it is necessary for Italy to have a goal, which is currently absent, in its plan to push for truth for Regeni. “We will come back for further interrogations to see if dialogue with Egypt is bringing results or not,” Palazotto said, stressing that continued dialogue with Egypt is preferable to cutting diplomatic ties.
The 9 to 10 billion-euro mega-deal, which was first reported in the Italian press in early February, includes six frigates, 24 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets, 24 M-346 jet trainer aircraft and a surveillance satellite.
This past December, an Italian parliamentary commission that was set up to review the case held its first session in Rome. Lead Italian prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco told the commission that Egyptian officials deliberately tried to mislead the investigation on at least four occasions.
In mid-January, Egypt’s public prosecutor Hamada al-Sawy announced that a new investigative team had been formed to look into the case. Sawy did not state why the new team had been formed, but an Egyptian official told Mada Masr at the time that the move allows Egypt to further procrastinate while appearing to make progress on the issue.
The official also said Italy may use the political pressure it faces over Regeni’s case as further leverage to secure more deals with Egypt, adding that there may be “some mega-economic deal to accommodate the Italian government.”