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Italy approves warship sale to Egypt despite murder of academic researcher Regeni

Italy has approved the sale of frigates to Egypt [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 June, 2020

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Italy has approved the sale of two warships to Egypt, and could offer further arms deals, despite the gruesome 2016 murder of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni in Cairo.

Italy has given a green light to the sale of two warships to Egypt, news media reported on Friday, despite tense relations between the two countries over the unresolved 2016 murder of an Italian student in Cairo.

The $1.2 billion sale of the frigates to Egypt has drawn sharp rebukes from the family of Giulio Regeni, a 28-year-old Cambridge University doctoral researcher who disappeared in Cairo in January 2016.

"This government has betrayed us," Regeni's parents, Paola and Claudio, were quoted as telling La Repubblica this week. "The limit has been reached, we will no longer allow the government to make fun of us."

In a gruesome still unsolved case, Regeni's body was found bearing extensive signs of torture. The case strained the traditionally close relations between Cairo and Rome, which accused Egypt of insufficient cooperation in the investigation.

In 2018, Italian prosecutor Giuseppe Pigatone said that Regeni was murdered over his research into Egyptian labour unions, which attracted the attention of Egyptian security officials.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte sought to defend the government's decision to sell the warships, built by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri.

"I have always put Giulio Regeni at the centre of my requests and it will always be so," Conte was quoted as saying by La Repubblica on Friday.

Sources within the government cited by the paper justified the decision as a "commercial operation that has nothing to do with the search for the truth about the death of Giulio Regeni".

Keeping the channels open was the best way to expect cooperation in the ongoing investigation into Regeni's death from Egypt, the sources said.

The deal awaits a final procedural step, a signoff from the foreign ministry office that authorises the sale and export of arms, La Repubblica said.

More arms deals

In what could be a further boon to Italy's struggling economy post-coronavirus, Egypt could potentially order four other frigates, plus about twenty smaller maritime units and aircraft, for a total of around 10 billion euros, according to La Repubblica.

The AGI news agency said Conte spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on June 7, partly about "bilateral, industrial and judicial cooperation, especially on the Regeni case".

Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio told parliament on Wednesday that the government continues to "demand the truth [about Regeni] from the Egyptian authorities through real, effective and efficient cooperation".

Some within the government majority criticised the decision, along with Italy's Greens and other left-wing parties.

On Friday, Antonio Tajani, the vice-president of billionaire former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party said the government needed to "find the right balance".

"The government must demand the truth from Egypt, but we cannot block our industry," said Tajani, former president of the European Parliament.

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