Regeni and clues about his killers: After 2 years of investigations Rome chief prosecutor says cooperation with Egypt in this case is unprecedented

Editorial Note: On January 25, 2018, the second anniversary of the disappearance of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni, Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica published a letter addressed to their chief editors written by Giuseppe Pignatone, Rome’s chief prosecutor. In the letter, Pignatone summarizes the results of the Italian-Egyptian joint investigation into Regeni’s death.

While Mada Masr published a story on the letter on January 26 titled, “Italian General Prosecutor: Egyptian secret services complicit in Regeni case,” we have decided to translate Pignatone’s letter into English, preserving Corriere della Sera’s editorial framing, to give the full context of the prosecutor’s address.

Dear editor in chief,

Two years after Giulio Regeni was abducted in Cairo, here is a brief reflection on some aspects of the inquiry.

The Cooperation

The fact that the tragic events took place in Egypt naturally meant that Egyptian authorities had, first and foremost, the right, but also the duty, to carry out the investigations. As for us, Italian judicial magistrates and police, we can only cooperate and support the investigations of the Egyptian team by making suggestions and requests. We cannot possibly imagine gathering evidence that would allow us to identify those responsible for the crime from outside Egypt.

This cooperation with our Egyptian colleagues is the first of its kind in the history of judicial cooperation. For the first time, I believe, a public prosecutor of another country came to Italy, in the absence of treaties, to share the results of his own investigations. We also traveled to Cairo for the same reasons: there have been seven meetings in total. For this, I must publicly thank Prosecutor General Nabil Sadek.

In the absence of international agreements or conventions, as in this case, such complex and demanding judicial cooperation can be made possible only if the governments of both countries simultaneously initiate real cooperation. Undoubtedly, the pressure of public opinion — also on an international scale — played a major role in this.

The Inquiry

As magistrates, our activities have to comply with specific standards and methods, as well as with our established legal culture. It was not always easy to penetrate the mentality of the Arab world and measure ourselves against a judicial system with completely different investigative procedures and practices.

To give an example of this: in order not to break the thread of cooperation, we had to acknowledge the legal impossibility of being present during witness hearings held before our Egyptian colleagues in Cairo.

Sometimes hurdles were overcome, at least in part. Another example: we had immediately asked that data from the mobile network in certain areas of Cairo, concerning the crucial dates of January 25 and February 3, 2016 (the disappearance of Giulio and the date his body was discovered), be delivered to us, but Egyptian law wouldn’t allow it. The problem was partly solved because we had access to the reports of Egyptian experts. However, accessing the crude data and analyzing it directly obviously would have made a huge difference.

Despite all these obstacles, we continued with our work, and I think I can say we had some tangible results. First, we wanted to avoid the investigations heading down the wrong track — by focusing on non-existent espionage activity by Giulio, or the involvement of a group of common criminals, for example. Secondly, we wanted to establish some red lines within the framework for further investigations into the murder. First and foremost, the motive can be easily traced to his research activities during his months in Cairo. Light was shed on the role played by some of the people Giulio met in the course of his research and who betrayed him. It has also become clear that Giulio attracted the attention of Egypt’s state apparatus for several months, attention which increased in intensity in the lead up to January 25.

These are crucial elements in pursuing the investigation, and above all, in finding common ground with our Egyptian colleagues. Two years ago, no one would have expected that we could obtain such results.

We do not intend to stop here, even though we remain extremely aware of the significant complexity of the investigation. Here is another example to illustrate the hurdles we have already overcome and those we still have to face: During our last meeting in Cairo, in December, we wanted to share the meticulous reconstruction of all the evidence collected until now with our Egyptian colleagues. This information was compiled by the Raggruppamento Operativo Speciale and the Servizio Centrale Operativo, who did, one must say, an outstanding job these past two years. For this, they deserve our gratitude.

In an ordinary investigation, the public prosecutor’s office would have been able to draw some conclusions, although incomplete, on the basis of the information filed. In this case, the cooperation between both offices imposes a slow and laborious process: sharing the information, waiting until our colleagues examine it, and then together assessing the next steps to take. This is a complex process based on a reciprocal sense of collaboration, and while it cannot be as quick as we all wish, it is the only possible one. The slightest rush on our part would boomerang and nullify all the evidence that has been painfully reconstructed until now.

Cambridge

Since the murderer’s motive is linked exclusively to Giulio’s research, one has to highlight how important it is to comprehend what led him to travel to Cairo and to identify all those he had contact with, both academics and Egyptian labor union members.

This is why the obvious inconsistencies between the statements by university staff and what we uncovered from Giulio’s correspondence (recovered in Italy through his personal computer) required further investigations in the United Kingdom. These investigations were made possible thanks to the effective cooperation of the British authorities. The results of this cooperation — including the search and seizure of material — seem fruitful after an initial examination. They are currently being studied by our investigators.

The family

We met with Giulio’s parents numerous times over the past 24 months. We were impressed by their dignity in the face of tragedy, and by their incessant efforts to pursue truth and justice. We can assure them, on our part, that we will continue deploying sustained efforts, doing everything necessary and useful to bring those responsible for the abduction, torture and the murder of Giulio to justice.

Rome’s chief prosecutor

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Giuseppe Pignatone, Rome's chief prosecutor