Italy judge suspends trial of Egyptians charged after student killing

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By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) -An Italian judge suspended on Thursday the trial of four Egyptian security officials over the disappearance and murder of an Italian student who was killed in Egypt, because of concerns the men might not know about they had been charged.

The decision means the case will now return to a preliminary court that will have to decide whether to make a fresh effort to locate the four senior officials and hand them their writs.

Earlier on Thursday, a prosecutor had said Italy had made numerous efforts to track down the suspects in the killing of Giulio Regeni and accused Egypt of refusing to reveal their whereabouts and of repeatedly undermining the investigation.

However, judge Antonella Capri, after more than seven hours of deliberations, ruled in favour of court-appointed defence lawyers who had argued that the proceedings would be void if there was no evidence the four Egyptians knew about the case.

Regeni's family were bitterly dismayed by the decision, their lawyer Alessandra Ballerini said.

"It is a setback, but we are not going to give up. We demand that those who tortured and killed Giulio do not go unpunished," the lawyer told reporters after the ruling.

Regeni, a postgraduate student at Britain's Cambridge University, 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 before his death.

Italian and Egyptian prosecutors investigated the case together, but the two sides later fell out and came to very different conclusions.

The Italian prosecutors say Major Magdi Sharif, from Egypt's General Intelligence, Major General Tarek Sabir, the former head of state security, police Colonel Hisham Helmy and Colonel Ather Kamal, a former head of investigations in Cairo city, were responsible for the "aggravated kidnapping" of Regeni.

Sharif has also been accused of "conspiracy to commit aggravated murder".

The suspects have never responded publicly to the accusations and Egyptian police and officials have repeatedly denied any involvement in Regeni's disappearance and killing.

MISSING EVIDENCE

Prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco had earlier laid out 13 points before the court that he said illustrated how Egypt had first tried to sabotage the investigation and had then prevented the suspects from being officially informed of the charges.

He said Egyptian investigators had dragged their feet in the case, ignoring 39 out of 64 separate requests for information. He said the material that was handed over was often useless, such as video from the metro station where Regeni had vanished and which was blank for the 20 minutes he had been there.

"There was a complete recording from the day before and from the day after. Of course it might be pure chance," he said.

He added that Italy had tried on around 30 occasions, through diplomatic and government channels, to obtain the addresses of the suspects, with the then prime minister Giuseppe Conte telling Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2020 that the lack of cooperation was harming bilateral relations.

"I do not think it was humanly possible to do more (to find the officials)," Colaiocco said, adding that the case was so high profile it was impossible to imagine they knew nothing about it.

Regeni had been in Cairo to research Egypt's independent unions for his doctoral thesis. Associates say he was also interested in the long-standing domination of Egypt's economy by the state and military. Both subjects are sensitive in Egypt.

Egyptian police initially said Regeni died in a road accident. They later said he was the victim of a kidnapping by gangsters, who were subsequently killed in a shootout.

(Additional reporting by Marco Carta; Editing by William Maclean and Alistair Bell)

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