Egypt has rejected an Italian request to hand over the phone records of mobile subscribers in the Cairo district where an Italian doctoral student resided before being abducted, tortured and killed, a senior Egyptian official said Saturday.
Senior prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman addressed a news conference a day after Italy recalled its ambassador to protest what it described as a lack of cooperation in the investigation of the killing of Giulio Regeni, whose body was found nine days after he disappeared, bearing signs of torture.
Suleiman said Egypt rejected the request because it violated Egyptian laws and the constitution. He said the Italians told an Egyptian delegation visiting Rome this week that the continuation of cooperation between the two nations over the case hinged on meeting their request for the records, which include those of subscribers in the Cairo suburb where Regeni's body was found Feb. 3.
"Egypt rejected the request, not because it wanted to be intransigent or to conceal, but rather out of respect for the law and the Egyptian constitution," Suleiman said. "That request violates the law and the constitution and whoever meets it will have committed a crime."
Suleiman said the Italians repeated the request on the second and final day of the talks in Rome. "The Egyptian delegation reasserted its uncompromising rejection," he said.
Regeni, who was in Egypt to research labor movements, went missing on Jan. 25, the fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprising, when police were out in force to prevent demonstrations, leading to speculation that Egyptian security forces were behind his abduction and death. The Interior Ministry has denied any involvement.
The Egyptian government has suggested several alternative scenarios. It recently claimed that security forces had killed members of a kidnapping gang in a raid and circulated photos of Regeni's ID cards it said had been found at the scene. That explanation was widely dismissed, including in the Italian media, which has closely followed the case.
Suleiman also said Egyptian investigators could not meet an Italian request for video footage from security cameras at the metro station nearest to Regeni's Cairo apartment, saying the recently installed cameras automatically erased footage. He said the U.S. manufacturers informed the Egyptian investigators that it was not possible to retrieve the erased footage. A German company approached by the Egyptians said retrieval had a 50/50 chance of success but that the procedure was costly.
"We met 98 percent of all the requests made by the Italians," Suleiman said. The Italians, meanwhile, provided the Egyptians with only a small number of more than 500,000 files stored in Regeni's laptop computer, he added. The two sides, however, left on good terms, he said.
"Judicial cooperation between Egypt and Italy is positive and Italy is one of the best countries that deals with Egypt when it comes to judicial matters," he said the start of the news conference. "We are eager to continue this cooperation."
He refused to be drawn into commenting on media reports on the case, saying only that anyone who has a "confirmed and documented" piece of evidence should come forward and submit it to the Egyptian investigators.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said on Tuesday his country deeply regretted Regeni's death and intended to "transparently" continue its "full cooperation" with Italy to resolve the case and bring the culprits to justice.
El-Sissi and Italian Premier Matteo Renzi have forged close ties since the Egyptian leader came to office in June 2014. Italy is Egypt's biggest EU trading partner and the two countries have been coordinating policies on Libya, Egypt's neighbor and Italy's former colony, where the extremist Islamic State group has a local affiliate.
Renzi told reporters on Friday that the decision to recall the Italian ambassador in Egypt was made "immediately" after Italian prosecutors gave their assessment of two days of meetings with the Egyptians that they had hoped would deliver useful evidence.
"Italy, as you know, made a commitment to the family of Giulio Regeni naturally, to the memory of Giulio Regeni, but also to the dignity of all us, saying we'd only stop in front of the truth," Renzi said.
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Saturday that Italy will study other steps to take if the truth about Regeni's slaying doesn't come out, without elaborating.
Gentiloni recalled that he has said "we will adopt immediate and proportional measures," the Italian news agency ANSA reported from Tokyo, where he was participating in a G-7 ministers' meeting. "We committed ourselves to doing this, and we will do this."
Last week, Regeni's parents urged the Italian government to declare Egypt "unsafe" for Italians to visit, saying their son was only one of many torture victims in the Arab nation. Egypt's Red Sea resorts have for years been a popular destination for hundreds of thousands of Italians who visited Egypt annually.