x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Egyptian judges may decide today on Tamim case appeals

Property tycoon and officer have been sentenced to death for murdering Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim at her Jumeirah Beach Residence.

Hesham Talaat Moustafa inside a cage at a court in Cairo last year.
Hesham Talaat Moustafa inside a cage at a court in Cairo last year.

CAIRO // Egyptian judges are expected to decide today whether to allow appeals by two men sentenced to death for the murder of the singer Suzanne Tamim in Dubai. Judges from the Cassation Court will decide whether the appeals by Hesham Talaat Moustafa, 50, an Egyptian property tycoon and senior member of the ruling National Democratic Party, and Mohsen el Sokari, 40, a former state security officer, will be heard.

They were sentenced to death by the Cairo Criminal Court on May 21 of last year after Moustafa was charged with hiring, inciting and assisting el Sokari to kill Tamim in July 2008. Moustafa was said to have paid el Sokari US$2 million (Dh7.3m) to murder the 30-year-old Lebanese singer, with whom he was romantically linked. Tamim was found dead on July 28, 2008. Her throat had been slit and she was lying in a pool of blood at the entrance to her flat at the Jumeirah Beach Residence.

The defendants' lawyers lodged the appeals in August. It usually takes six months to a year after the initial appeal is lodged for the Cassation Court to decide whether or not to allow it to proceed. Judge Adel Abdel Hamid, the new head of the Cassation Court, is leading the panel that will make the decision. He has a reputation for accepting appeals in death sentence cases. While these decisions often take a day, there is no guarantee it will be delivered that quickly.

If the men's appeals are accepted, it would mean a new trial within two months, by a different three-judge panel at the criminal court. The defendants would remain in prison until the new trial starts and while it is heard. If the appeals are rejected, the death sentences are upheld and will be carried out shortly after the defendant and his family are notified. In Egypt, death sentences are carried out by hanging for ordinary citizens and by firing squad for military officers.

Dubai Police tracked down el Sokari using footage from closed circuit television pictures from Tamim's building and a bloodstained T-shirt and pair of black jogging bottoms that were dumped in a rubbish bin on the floor below her apartment. The blood was identified as the singer's and traces of el Sokari's DNA were also found on the clothing. Mohammed Abu Shoqa, one of Moustafa's appeal lawyers, claimed some of the trial evidence, including the testimony by the victim's father and an Egyptian police officer, "violated legal procedures".

If the appeals are unsuccessful, the men can appeal directly to the prosecutor general or to the president. Under Egyptian law, appeals can be based on legal grounds only and are decided by panels of five or seven judges from the Court of Cassation. Mr Abu Shoqa and his father, Bahaa, are well-known appeal lawyers. They joined Moustafa's defence team after the death verdict was confirmed on June 25.

Their 31-point appeal runs more than 346 pages, and attempts to refute the criminal's court's reliance on evidence from Dubai Police's investigators and forensic science experts. Both men's defence teams lodged appeals during their trial. The lawyers are believed to have earned millions of Egyptian pounds in the high-profile case. The defendants have been wearing red prison jumpsuits, signifying that they had been sentenced to death. They are in separate jails.

They are not required, nor expected, to attend court today. Their trial, which began on October 18, 2008, was dubbed by the media one "of passion and blood" and "of money and power". From November 2008 until the trial ended, on March 18 last year, publication of the proceedings was banned, although journalists were allowed to attend. @Email:nmagd@thenational.ae