Italy ambassador leaves Egypt over student murder probe
CAIRO - Italy's ambassador to Egypt left Cairo on Sunday after Rome recalled him over a lack of progress in the probe into the murder of an Italian student, an airport official and a diplomatic source said.
Italy, a key ally of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's regime, recalled Maurizio Massari after last week's inconclusive meetings between Italian investigators and an Egyptian team that visited Rome to present their findings into Giulio Regeni's murder.
Regeni, a 28-year-old Cambridge University PhD student, had been researching labour unions when he disappeared on January 25 from central Cairo.
His badly mutilated body was found more than a week later by the side of a road on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital.
During the meetings in Rome, Italy had demanded thousands of phone records to investigate the murder, which Egypt's assistant state prosecutor Mostafa Suleiman said was a demand that "violates the Egyptian constitution".
Suleiman, who headed the Egyptian team that visited Rome, said the Italian investigators "conditioned further judicial cooperation on this demand" which his team flatly refused.
Suleiman said the Italian investigators also demanded CCTV footage of the area from where Regeni had disappeared. He said the footage had been automatically deleted by then.
On Sunday, Massari left for Rome after Italy recalled him for consultations, an Italian diplomatic source said. An airport official also confirmed he had departed Cairo.
Italian officials have greeted Egypt's explanations concerning Regeni's murder with outright scepticism.
They suspect he was killed by elements in the Egyptian security services, an accusation which Cairo has steadfastly denied.
Regeni's murder has troubled Cairo-Rome diplomatic ties given that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi shares a close relationship with Sisi, helping in turn to generate hugely valuable business contracts for Italian companies in Egypt.
In terms of action, Italy's options are limited.
Moves under consideration include a warning to its citizens against travel to Egypt, but the Regeni case has already caused a slump in visitor numbers from Italy.
Rome is also considering asking for support from its European Union partners to try to put pressure on the Egyptian government over the case.
Media coverage of the Regeni case has served as a focus for other disappearances and rights abuses in Egypt.
Since ousting his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013, Sisi has overseen a blistering crackdown targeting all forms of dissent.
Hundreds of Morsi supporters have been killed, tens of thousands jailed and hundreds more including Morsi sentenced to death or lengthy jail terms.