Egypt’s chief prosecutor has told Italian authorities Cairo police investigated an Italian researcher weeks before the young man was found tortured to death in the Egyptian capital, according to a statement Friday from both sides.
Prosecutor Nabil Sadek’s assertion was the first time Egypt acknowledged police had investigated the 28-year-old doctoral student before his Jan. 25 disappearance in Cairo. It came after two days of meetings in Rome with Italian prosecutors who are determined to discover who tortured and killed Giulio Regeni.
Regeni’s body, bearing multiple marks of torture, was found along a Cairo highway on Feb. 3.
Sadek, in a joint written statement with Rome prosecutors, said that on Jan. 7, police in Cairo got a report on Regeni from the head of a street vendors’ union. For his doctorate from Cambridge, Regeni was researching labor movements, with a special interest in the vendors’ union.
The Egyptians told the Italians that police investigated Regeni for three days, but stopped the checks because it found “no activity of interest regarding national security.”
Regeni disappeared after telling people he was going to visit a friend, traveling in Cairo when police presence was heavy because it was the 5th anniversary of the 2011 popular uprising.
Egyptian authorities at one point depicted Regeni as the victim of robbers preying on foreigners. They announced in March they had killed a gang of five Egyptians and came upon Regeni’s passport in the home of the sister of a gang leader.
Italian authorities immediately cast doubt on that version, and Regeni’s family denied that many of the possessions that Egyptian authorities claimed were found in the house and belonged to Regeni were actually his.
The joint statement Friday expressed “weak doubts” about the link between the five Egyptians, slain in a confrontation with police, and the “kidnapping and killing of Regeni.”
For months Rome prosecutors have pressed Egyptian investigators for Regeni’s cell phone records as well as video from a surveillance camera near the metro stop he was using the day he disappeared. The statement indicated that the Egyptians turned over a “full and detailed report” of cell-phone traffic in the area where Regeni was last seen by witnesses.
An autopsy performed in Italy found signs of torture including cut marks on his body resembling letters. The Corriere della Sera newspaper this week quoted his mother, Paola, as saying: “‘They used him like a blackboard.'”
The Italian government has been so frustrated by Egypt’s level of cooperation in the probe that in April, Italy’s foreign minister recalled the country’s ambassador from Cairo.
Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni telephoned Regeni’s parents Friday, saying the Rome prosecutors’ office deemed the talks with the Egyptian prosecutor “useful and fruitful.”
“Gentiloni also expressed the wish that these positive signals can be consolidated and will translate over the next weeks into a common commitment in the search for the truth about Giulio,” the foreign ministry said.
Egyptian officials, including President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, have denied any police role in the killing.
Egyptian police have long been accused of using torture and practicing secret detentions.