Italy hopes the trial will shed light on a murder that shocked the country and strained ties with Egypt, which has repeatedly denied that its officials had anything to do with Regeni’s brutal death.
“The search for the truth has always been, and will continue to be, a fundamental objective in our relations with Egypt,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told a parliamentary commission investigating the case last month.
“Achieving a definitive image, within the framework of a fair trial, will not return Giulio to his parents, but it will reaffirm the force of justice, transparency and the rule of law in which he believed.”
Regeni, a graduate student at Britain’s Cambridge University, disappeared in the Egyptian capital in January 2016. His body was found almost a week later and a post-mortem examination showed that he had been extensively tortured before his death.
Italian and Egyptian prosecutors investigated the case together, but the two parties later quarreled and reached very different conclusions.
Italian prosecutors say Major Magdi Sharif of Egypt’s General Intelligence, Major General Tarek Sabir, former head of state security, Police Colonel Hisham Helmy, and Colonel Ather Kamal, former chief of investigations in the city of Cairo , were responsible for the “aggravated kidnapping” of Regeni.
Sharif has also been charged with “conspiracy to commit aggravated murder.”
The suspects have never publicly responded to the allegations and Egyptian police and officials have repeatedly denied any involvement in Regeni’s disappearance and murder.
Regeni’s parents were among the first to arrive at the trial, which takes place in a high-security prison in Rome.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office said the government would be a civil party in the case, indicating that it views itself as an aggrieved party.
Court-appointed defense attorneys say the trial should not take place because it is not certain that any of the suspects are aware of the process.
A judge overruled their objection at a preliminary hearing in May, saying news of the investigation would have reached them anyway. However, the trial judge could decide otherwise on Thursday and demand that another effort be made to contact them.
Regeni had been in Cairo to research the independent trade unions in Egypt for her doctoral thesis. Associates say he was also interested in the long-standing dominance of Egypt’s economy by the state and the military. Both issues are sensitive in Egypt.
Prosecutors say they have evidence to show that Sharif managed to get the informants to follow Regeni and eventually arrested him at a Cairo metro station. The charge sheet says that Sharif and other unidentified Egyptian officials tortured Regeni for several days, causing her “acute physical suffering.”
Egyptian authorities initially said that Regeni died in a traffic accident. They later said that he was the victim of a kidnapping by gangsters who were later captured and killed by the police.
It is not clear how long the trial will last. The government has said it will seek to extradite anyone convicted in the case.