x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Tamim death sentences upheld

Cairo Criminal Court confirms the death sentences against an Egyptian businessman and the man he hired to murder Suzanne Tamim.

Hisham Talaat Moustafa, the former chairman of the Talaat Moustafa Group, stands behind bars at a court in Cairo yesterday.
Hisham Talaat Moustafa, the former chairman of the Talaat Moustafa Group, stands behind bars at a court in Cairo yesterday.

CAIRO // The Cairo Criminal Court yesterday confirmed the death sentences against an Egyptian businessman and the man he hired to murder the Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim in Dubai last year. Hisham Talaat Moustafa, a property magnate and senior member of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party, and Mohsen el Sokari, a former state security officer, were present in court as the head of the panel of three judges, Mohammadi Qonsowa, read out the verdict yesterday morning.

The court announced its original verdict on May 21 but Egyptian law requires death sentences to be sent to Egypt's Grand Mufti. The procedure is considered a formality, and the Mufti presents his decision in an advisory capacity. Judge Qonsowa did not reveal whether the Mufti had approved the death sentence in this case. "The court decided unanimously, after reviewing the [case] papers, listening to the defence, and receiving the Mufti's opinion, and criminal law's code, to punish Mohsen el Sokari and Hisham Talaat Moustafa by death sentence for their charges," he said.

The death sentence in Egypt is carried out by hanging. The judges are expected to submit the reasoning for their verdict within a month. The defendants have 60 days from yesterday to file an appeal. If accepted, there would be a retrial with new judges. An appeal and retrial could take more than a year. Unlike the commotion that followed the original sentencing, yesterday's verdict was received calmly by the defendants and their relatives.

Moustafa, 49, who was charged with inciting and supporting el Sokari to kill Tamim, stood expressionless in his cage as the judge read out the verdict. In the cage next to him el Sokari, 40, merely raised his index finger in apparent exasperation as he listened to his sentences. El Sokari also received a 10-year jail term for illegal possession of a gun and ammunition that were found at his home in Egypt.

Both men arrived at the court two hours before the 9.10am scheduled start of proceedings and started reading the Quran. Moustafa spoke to relatives and employees, appearing calm and upbeat, almost defiant, unlike his demeanour during the 27 sessions of his trial and sentencing, when he was generally quiet and gloomy. The former Egyptian MP offered el Sokari US$2 million (Dh7.3m) to kill Tamim after she ended her affair with him in 2007 and started dating another man in London.

The gruesome murder of the pop singer created a sensation in the Middle East. Tamim, 30 years old at the time, was found in a pool of blood with her throat slit and body bruised at the entrance of her apartment at Rimal complex in Jumeirah Beach Residence on July 28, ten days after she moved there. Dubai Police traced el Sokari through surveillance video from the building and a bloodstained T-shirt and pair of black jogging bottoms dumped in a rubbish bin on the floor below Tamim's. The blood was identified as the singer's and traces of el Sokari's DNA were also found on the clothing.

The clothes and video footage were among the evidence presented by the prosecution during the trial, which began on October 18 and ended in March. Called the "trial of the century" and "the trial of wealth and power", by some here, the case gripped the attention of Egyptians and Arabs. In 2008, the murder of Suzanne Tamim was one of the search terms most Googled in the Arab world. Moustafa filed two complaints with the prosecutor general against two Egyptian weeklies on Tuesday for stories they carried last week that he considered to be defaming. However, no action has been taken yet against pro-government Al Musswar or the independent Al-Fagr.

The ban on media coverage of the trial that was imposed by the judge was lifted on the day of sentencing. nmagd@thenational.ae