CAIRO (Reuters) - Tension between Egypt and Italy stems from Cairo’s refusal to hand over extensive phone records as part of an investigation into the killing of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni, a senior Egyptian prosecutor said on Saturday.
Italy recalled its ambassador to Egypt for consultations on Friday, saying Egyptian investigators on a visit to Rome had failed to provide the evidence needed to resolve the case of Regeni, whose body was found dumped in a roadside ditch nine days after he disappeared in the center of Cairo.
A day after returning from Rome, Egypt’s assistant public prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman said Egypt had complied with 98 percent of Italy’s requests.
Suleiman said the findings of the Italian and Egyptian autopsies were almost identical but that Egypt would not share the phone records sought by Italian investigators.
He said Italy had requested all records from the area where Regeni lived, where he disappeared and where he was found, which could amount to nearly a million calls.
“This demand goes against the constitution and the law and is a crime for anyone who does it,” Suleiman told a news conference in Cairo. “We told them that the public prosecution is doing this itself (looking at phone records) and will give you the results.”
Suleiman said the Egyptian investigators had also given the Italians the surveillance camera they had asked for but that the relevant footage had automatically deleted.
Regeni, a 28-year-old PhD student who was researching the Egyptian labor movement, disappeared on Jan. 25, the anniversary of the start of 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. His body was discovered on Feb. 3 and Egyptian investigators found signs of extensive torture.
Human rights groups say the wounds bear the hallmarks of Egypt’s security agencies and point to the scores of Egyptians who have disappeared over the past year. Egyptian officials have repeatedly denied involvement in his death but have struggled to offer an explanation to satisfy Italy.
Italian officials have ridiculed different explanations put forward by Egyptian investigators.
Egypt has also asked Italy to explain what happened to Egyptian Adel Moawad, who went missing in the European country last year. Suleiman said Italy handed over a file on Moawad, though his fate remained a mystery.
Italy’s decision to escalate the diplomatic dispute could dent Italian efforts to become Egypt’s key European partner in fighting terrorism and people-smuggling.
Italy also has significant economic interests in Egypt, including the giant offshore Zohr gas field, which is being developed by Italy’s state energy producer Eni.
Suleiman played down the diplomatic tensions, saying his team returned a day early to avoid a strike at Rome airport.
However, in a statement carried by state news agency MENA later spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri had expressed unease “toward the political direction that is beginning to be taken regarding this file”.
Additional reporting by Ali Abdelatti; Writing by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Alison Williams and Helen Popper