A three-and-a-half-minute leaked video went viral on social media hours after being aired by state TV on 23 January. The film showed Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni speaking to a representative of the Cairo Street Vendors Union days before his disappearance in January 2016.
In the dimly lit video which appears to have been secretly recorded, Mohamed Abdallah, the chairman of the Cairo Street Vendors Union, persistently asks Regeni to provide him with money.
“My wife has cancer and needs to have surgery. I’ll do anything as long as it involves money,” says Abdallah in Arabic. Regeni replies: “The money is not mine... I’m an academic researcher; I cannot submit a funding application to the British foundation saying I want the money for personal reasons, if this happened it’d be a very big problem for me as an academic.”
Despite Regeni’s refusal Abdallah continues to ask whether there are “other ways” to obtain money for personal use.
“The money cannot come through me,” Regeni says. As his interlocutor persists Regeni responds by saying: “I am sorry... I do not know how to solve it.”
Asked about how long it will take for any funding process to be completed Regeni replies that first information as how money will be used and what are the precise needs of the vendors union are must be collected before any funds are allocated.
Though Egyptian state TV didn’t mention where or how the video was recorded. Italy, where a slightly longer version of the video was broadcast, has furnished some details. According to the Italian media, Abdallah secretly filmed Regeni in Downtown Cairo’s Ahmed Helmi Square using a shirt-button micro-camera provided by the police.
Footage broadcast by the Italian media was a minute longer than that shown in Egypt and includes Abdallah asking whether funds can be used for “political purposes”.
“Are we going to use the funding for kiosks for street vendors or are we going to use it for projects related to freedom,” asks Abdallah. Regeni responds by saying “money for political purposes is difficult... I am a foreigner conducting academic research in Egypt and the only way the union will get money is through official channels.”
Regeni, 28, a PhD student at Cambridge University, affiliated with the American University in Cairo, was in Egypt to research trade unions and labour movements. He was reported missing on the fifth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution. His mutilated and half-naked body was found on 3 February on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road.
In its report into Regeni’s murder Egypt’s Forensic Medicine Authority said the cause of death was blunt force trauma delivered by a sharp object to the back of the head, causing a cranial fracture and severe intracranial haemorrhaging. It also noted signs of torture on the body, including cigarette burns, bruises and cuts. An autopsy conducted following the body’s repatriation to Rome revealed what Italian Minister of Interior Angelino Alfano called “inhuman, animal-like” violence. According to Italian news agency ANSA, “the findings showed that Regeni’s neck was twisted, the vertebrae broken and he was left unable to breathe.” ANSA also reported that the Italian student had fractures all over his body.
The video was leaked just as the prosecutor-general agreed to allow experts from Italy and a German company that specialises in salvaging CCTV footage to examine surveillance cameras at Dokki Metro station as part of the investigation into Regeni’s murder. Italian investigators have been demanding access to the footage for almost a year.
A statement from the prosecutor-general said experts would examine recordings made by the closed-circuit television camera at the Metro station in the Cairo neighbourhood of Dokki, where Regeni lived to find “facts related to the incident and its perpetrators”.
Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadek met in December with Italian prosecutors for two days of talks and handed over documents requested by Italy two months earlier. A transcript of testimony given by the head of the Cairo Street Vendors’ Union, who had raised concerns with police over Regeni, was among the documents. Egypt has said that police conducted a three-day check on Regeni’s activities after being contacted by the union official but found nothing of interest.
The agreement to allow Rome access to CCTV footage comes as part of the ongoing cooperation between Egyptian and Italian prosecution authorities, said Sadek. Yet on 25 January Italian President Sergio Mattarella called for “broader and more effective cooperation so that the culprits are brought to justice”.
“Italy has mourned the killing of one of its studious young people, Giulio Regeni, without full light being shed on this tragic case for a year despite the intense efforts of our judiciary and our diplomacy,” Mattarella said.
Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera said last week that suspicion has fallen on “seven members of the Egyptian police and intelligence services who used Abdallah as an informant and who later were responsible for wiping out the alleged kidnapping gang” — a reference to five men killed in what the police claimed was an exchange of gunfire last March. The five dead men were initially accused by security authorities of kidnapping and torturing Regeni to death. Some of the murdered Italian’s belongings were displayed as evidence of this hypothesis after allegedly being found in the apartment of one of the gang members’ sister.
Since Regeni’s murder Rome and Cairo have been engaged in a tense stand-off. Last year Italy recalled its ambassador to protest the lack of progress in the Regeni probe and has yet to send a replacement.
Ahmed Said, president of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said last week that “Egypt will not keep quiet until the truth is revealed.”
“Everybody in Egypt knows Mr Regeni by name. It is a catastrophic story for all Egyptians, the people before the government. The media has also been putting pressure on the authorities to know what was going on,” Said said. He added that progress in the investigations and cooperation between the Egyptian and Italian prosecutors would soon bring an end to the case.