CAIRO // Two men sentenced to death for the murder of the Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim have been granted a new trial. Hesham Talaat Moustafa, 50, an Egyptian property tycoon and a senior member of the ruling National Democratic Party, and Mohsen el Sokari, 40, a former state security officer, were not in court to hear the decision, which was greeted with cries of jubilation from relatives.
The pair were convicted of killing Tamim in Dubai in July 2008. The 30-year-old singer was found in a pool of blood, with her throat cut, at the entrance to her flat at the Jumeirah Beach Residence. Moustafa was said to have paid el Sokari US$2 million (Dh7.3m) to kill her. The reasons for Cairo Cassation Court's decision to overturn the verdicts and order a new trial will not be made public for several weeks.
Defence lawyers had claimed that there were inconsistencies and errors in the evidence. The decision was read out by Adel Abdel Hamid, the head of the court and of the 11-judge tribunal that considered the appeal. It sparked celebration among the defendants' relatives, some of whom chanted: "God is great." "I knew my son is innocent," said el Sokari's father, Mounir. The defendants were not required to attend. Moustafa's sister, Sahar, had not missed any of the previous court sessions, but was absent yesterday. Her husband, Ihab Madi, said: "My only response is 1,000 congratulations."
Moustafa's two brothers, his three sons, two wives and his mother were not present, nor had they attended any of the sessions. Three of his uncles were there, one of whom was reading the Quran. Moustafa and el Sokari were sentenced to death by the Cairo Criminal Court on May 21 last year. Moustafa had been charged with hiring, inciting and assisting el Sokari to kill Tamim, with whom he was romantically involved. She left him in 2006 to move to London, where she started dating an Iraqi-British boxer.
It was alleged that, for a year, Moustafa tried to convince Tamim to return to him. When he failed, he sent el Sokari to follow her, first in London, then Dubai, where she had moved 10 days before she was killed on July 28, 2008. According to Egyptian law, the judges have to submit the reasons for their decision within 30 days. The date of the retrial, with new three judges, has not been set. By law, it should take place between six months and one year from now.
In the meantime, the defendants will remain in prison, but will replace their red outfits, indicating that they had been sentenced to death, with white ones. Mohammed Bahaa Abu Shoqa, a lawyer for Moustafa, said in a phone interview: "We are back to point zero. We can say that they were just granted a new lease of life, we just opened a new page." Anis el Manawy, el Sokari's lawyer, said outside the courtroom: "We will appear before another court. I am not seeking their release, I am seeking their innocence."
Mr el Manawy expected the new trial to start in no more than four months. "We had reasons for appeal, including inspection of the crime scene," he said. "We asked the court to inspect the crime scene [in Dubai] and to compare with what the Dubai Police said. "We asked for the [video] discs from which images [of the crime and his client] were extracted. We think that these images were tampered with, with their dates and they were not clear. We asked for the originals, we didn't get the originals. We are grateful for that chance. This is good, not bad at all."
If found guilty again, the defendants could be sentenced to death by hanging or life imprisonment, which means 25 years. If another guilty verdict is declared and a second appeal is allowed, the Cassation Court would have to issue the final verdict, of which there would be no chance of further appeal. The defence lawyers spent about six hours on February 4 presenting their cases for appeal. Yesterday, the Cassation Court granted journalists special permission to attend the hearing. A crowd of reporters had gathered at the court from the early hours.
Lawyers representing Adel Maatouq and Riyad al Azzawi, who both claim to have been married to Tamim, were also in court yesterday. Both men are claiming her estate.