An Italian judge suspended the trial due to the murder of student Giulio Regeni in Cairo, fearing that the defendants had not been informed that they had been charged.
The first hearing in the long-awaited trial against four Egyptian security officers on Thursday was devoted to whether it was fair for the defendants to be tried in absentia.
Italian prosecutors in Rome urged the court to continue the trial in absentia, arguing that Egyptian authorities hampered the investigation into the murder of the 28-year-old student in Cairo in 2016 and prevented Italy from contacting the suspects .
“What is at stake is the right of Italy to hold a trial concerning a very serious crime which could have taken place abroad, but which involved an Italian citizen,” prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco told the court.
But Judge Antonella Capri ruled in favor of the court-appointed defense lawyers, who argued the proceedings were void as no one had been able to reach the defendants in Egypt.
Citing the need to ensure a fair trial, Judge Capri overturned the decision to try the four men and ordered the return of the documents to prosecutors, who must again attempt to locate the suspects.
Major Magdi Ibrahim Abdelal Sharif, Egyptian General Intelligence, General Tariq Sabir, the former head of state security, Police Col. Usham Helmi and Col. Athar Kamel Mohamed Ibrahim, a former chief of investigations of the city of Cairo, are accused of “aggravated kidnapping”. Sharif was also charged with “conspiracy to commit aggravated murder”.
Lawyer Tranquillino Sarno, appointed by the court to defend Athar Kamel, said the prosecution did not have enough details on the four and was even mistaken about the age and position of his client because he was “a simple policeman”.
“The accused don’t know anything. Not what they are accused of. Not that we are here today. Not who defends them, ”Sarno told court.
At a preliminary hearing in May, a judge ruled that the media coverage meant news of the investigation would have reached them. That decision was overturned on Thursday, shortly after the hearing was suspended at around 10 p.m. local time (8 p.m. GMT).
Alessandra Ballerini, a lawyer representing the Regeni family, said the decision was a “setback” which “rewards the arrogance of Egypt”.
“We will not give up,” she said. “We want justice done for Giulio Regeni.”
Regeni’s parents and sister were present at the hearing in the bunker of Rebibbia prison in Rome, often the scene of mafia trials.
The prosecution presented the court with a list of 13 points of evidence indicating Egypt’s attempt to undermine the investigation, including how it sought to prevent suspects from being informed that they had been charged.
Colaiocco, the prosecutor, said Egyptian investigators dragged their feet in the case, ignoring 39 of 64 separate information requests, and handed over often unnecessary material, including footage of a metro station that missed the period during which Regeni had disappeared.
Italy had also tried about 30 times, through diplomatic and government channels, to obtain the addresses of the suspects, with then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte telling Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi that the lack of cooperation weighed heavily on him. on bilateral relations.
“I don’t think it was humanly possible to do more (to find the four suspects),” Colaiocco said.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio hailed the first hearing in Rome as “an unexpected result in the weeks following the discovery of Giulio’s body”.
The government said it was joining the proceedings with a civil action for damages, in a symbolic demonstration of support for the Regeni family.
Regeni, a postgraduate student at the British University of Cambridge, disappeared in Cairo in January 2016. His body was found almost a week later and a post-mortem examination showed he had been brutally tortured beforehand. his death.
Italian and Egyptian prosecutors set out to investigate the case together, but the two sides later fell out and came to very different conclusions.
Egyptian police first said Regeni died in a traffic accident, then said he was kidnapped by gangsters, who were later killed in a shootout. In November, Egyptian prosecutors said the person who murdered Regeni was still unknown.
Italian prosecutors claimed they had eyewitness testimony and other “important evidence” implicating security officers in the murder.