Italy may recall student murder probe team from Egypt over lack of cooperation -judicial source

People attend a memorial for Giulio Regeni outside of the Italian embassy in Cairo, Egypt, February 6, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany (Reuters)

By Steve Scherer and Massimiliano Di Giorgio ROME (Reuters) - Italy is considering recalling a legal team sent last month to Cairo to investigate the murder of an Italian graduate student because Egyptian authorities are not cooperating, a judicial source said on Wednesday. Giulio Regeni, 28, disappeared in January and his tortured, battered body was found in a ditch on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital on Feb. 3. The case has stirred outrage in Italy and strained relations between two countries that share major strategic and economic interests, with widespread speculation in the media that Regeni was killed by either police or security services. Egypt has denied any such suggestion. The case has put a spotlight on alleged police brutality in Egypt, a strategic ally of the United State and other Western powers. The Egyptian authorities invited Italian police to join the inquiry, but the judicial source said there was little point in keeping the team in Cairo because they had not received any relevant evidence to work with. In particular, the investigators have not received Regeni's mobile phone records and cell data that would allow them to pinpoint Regeni's movements before his Jan. 25 disappearance. The murder of Regeni, who was studying Egypt's independent labour unions and wrote critical articles about the government, continues to be followed closely by Italian media. On Wednesday, Milan officials hung a banner from city hall reading "The Truth for Giulio Regeni", in response to a campaign by human rights group Amnesty International. Other cities around the country started to follow suit. BUSINESS TIES Calling the legal team home would be a joint decision by the Rome court that is leading the Italian investigation and the government, the source said, because it would signal growing frustration with Egypt - an important Arab ally for Italy. A spokesman in Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's office said he did not know whether the investigators would be brought home, while a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An Egyptian forensics official has told the public prosecutor's office the autopsy he conducted showed Regeni was interrogated for up to seven days before he was killed, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing two sources. The findings, which were denied by Egypt's Justice Ministry, are the strongest indication yet that Regeni was killed by security services because they pointed to interrogation methods which human rights groups say are their hallmark. With no sign of the furore abating soon, the case has caused serious friction between Egypt and Italy, though it looks unlikely to drive a permanent wedge between two countries. Italy exported some 3 billion euros ($3.25 billion) in goods to Egypt last year, Italian export credit agency Sace said. State-controlled oil producer Eni is leading the way for Italian firms, developing Egypt's giant Zohr gas field. In a letter to Amnesty International seen by Reuters, Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi expressed his support for Regeni's family. "We are confident in the work being done by the Egyptian and Italian governments and we can't but hope, like everyone, that the question marks regarding this affair are cleared up as soon as possible," Descalzi wrote last month. Besides business ties, Egypt is also expected to play a major role in helping to stabilise Libya, its western neighbour, should factions there agree to a U.N.-sponsored unity government - a project vital to regional security in Italy's eyes. ($1 = 0.9226 euros) (Additional reporting by Stephen Jewkes in Milan; Editing by Crispian Balmer/Mark Heinrich)