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Italy says sale of warships to Egypt is undergoing ‘political assessment’

Italy’s foreign minister denied reports that Rome authorised the sale of two frigates to Egypt, after a parliamentary commission investigating the torture and death of an Italian student in Cairo had demanded an “urgent” meeting with the prime minister over the matter.

In statements delivered to parliament’s lower house on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said talks with Cairo were ongoing and the sale had yet to be completed.

“Authorisation is subject to strict application of legal criteria,” Di Maio said, and “the government has obviously decided to conduct a political assessment”.

Di Maio’s comments came after Italian media reported on Monday that Rome had already authorised the sale of two Fremm class frigates to Egypt, for about $1.34bn, despite an internal backlash over the murder of student Giulio Regeni.

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The decision, the news agency said, came a day after Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte spoke over the phone with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

The Fremm class are multi-mission warships designed for the navies of France and Italy. In recent years, they have been exported to Morocco, Greece and Brazil, among other countries.

According to the La Repubblica newspaper, the sales of frigates are reportedly part of a bigger deal with Cairo worth $9-12bn.

That agreement reportedly includes the sale of four other frigates, 24 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets, 24 M-346 jet trainer aircraft and a surveillance satellite.

The deal was submitted to parliament on 28 May, the paper reported.

In response to news of the sale, a parliamentary commission investigating the torture and murder of Regeni requested an “urgent” meeting with Conte “in light of the latest significant developments concerning Italian-Egyptian bilateral relations”.

‘Continuing to demand the truth’

Regeni, a 28-year-old postgraduate student at Cambridge University, was found dead in February 2016, a week after disappearing in the capital Cairo.

Italy placed five members of Egypt’s security forces under official investigation in 2018 for their alleged involvement in Regeni’s disappearance and torture.

Rome prosecutors investigating his death said in December that he was ensnared in a “spider’s web” spun by the Egyptian security services in the weeks leading up to his death.

Egyptian officials have repeatedly denied any involvement in the killing of Regeni, who had been researching Egypt’s independent unions for his doctoral thesis.

No charges have been made since his body was discovered on a roadside four years ago.

Regeni’s parents have previously expressed dismay over Italy’s bid to sell the warships to Egypt.

Acknowledging the backlash, Di Maio told parliament on Wednesday that his government seeks “significant progress in the investigation into the case of the barbaric murder of [Regeni]”.

The “Italian government and institutions are continuing to demand the truth from the Egyptian authorities via real, substantive and effective cooperation,” Di Maio said. Source