Egypt: Sex, politics, murder and a lot of money

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Egyptian real estate tycoon Hisham Talaat Mustafa’s lawyers have vowed to appeal a Cairo court decision to reduce a death sentence against their client to 15 years in prison. The court had initially decided to send Hisham Talaat Mustafa to the gallows for ordering the killing of his former mistress, Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim in Dubai in July 2008.

Sex, money, politics, showbiz and cold-blooded murder. The trial of Hisham Talaat Moustafa has caught the attention of all and sundry in both Lebanon and Egypt. The Egyptian real estate mogul, sentenced to death in May 2009 for ordering the killing of Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim in Dubai in July 2008, has had his sentence reduced to 15 years in prison.

The verdict against the former pillar of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was made Tuesday, September 28 by the criminal court in Cairo. The court was charged with reviewing the high profile case after a mistrial had been declared following a procedural error in May 2009. The billionaire had been condemned to hang.

Mohsen al-Sokkari, a retired police officer who was paid two million dollars to take the life of the Lebanese singer also saw his sentence reduced to 25 years in prison. He had also been slapped with the death penalty in the first trial.

Suzanne Tamim, who rose to fame after winning a singing competition in 1996, was found dead in July 2008 in her apartment in Dubai. Her body had been found riddled with several wounds.

According to Prosecutors, Mohsen al-Sokkari gained access to her apartment by posing as an employee of the building before stabbing her to death.

But the killer, disguised as an employee, had left incriminating evidence. Besides being filmed by video surveillance cameras, Mohsen’s DNA was also found on the crime scene. Questioned by police, he revealed that he had acted on behalf of Hisham Talaat Moustafa before recanting.

The murder was ruled as a crime of passion. According to the Egyptian media, Suzanne Tamim’s relationship with Mustafa had lasted over three years but had eneded before the murder.

Newspapers had reported at the time of the first trial that the tycoon had offered Suzanne US$50 million to become his wife. She refused the offer and left Egypt for London before moving to Dubai with her new husband, Riyadh al-Azzawi an Iraqi kickboxing champion.

Another appeal

Despite the flagrant reduction of sentences in the second trial as against the first, the defendants’ lawyers say they intend to appeal, although the defendants have pleaded guilty.

The verdict was not expected on Tuesday. According to the case’s timetable a hearing had been scheduled for the cross examination of witnesses as well as arguments from the defense.

“We had expected the judge to summon witnesses. Instead he read the verdict”, said Atef al-Manawy.

But Judge Adel Gomaa Abdessalam argued that the court had the right to pronounce the verdict because the defense had already been heard at a previous hearing.

Although it is quite tempting to link Hicham Talaat Moustafa’s political connections and the reduction of his sentence, it appears that his fortune is what saved him from the gallows.

The judge declared that the reduced sentence came as a result of a “diyya” or blood money that was paid to compensate the victim’s family. The amount is unknown.

The victim’s parents and brother had indicated last May that they wanted to drop the case, without talking about any compensation.

Meanwhile, immediately after the ruling, the Talaat Mostafa Group, TMG, saw its shares soar by over 5% at the Cairo Stock Exchange.

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