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Egyptian Tycoon Will Hang For Pop Diva Murder

(AP Photo/File)
File photo of Suzanne Tamim posing during a 2008 music video in Cairo, Egypt.

CAIRO (AP) Suzanne Tamim shot to fame in an "American Idol"-style TV show, a green-eyed Lebanese beauty whose pop songs about love's agony mirrored her troubled life.

Now, the man reported to be her secret lover - a married, politically powerful Egyptian tycoon - has been sentenced to hang for paying a former government security agent $2 million to slit her throat, a murder almost as clumsy as it was horrific.

Billionaire Hisham Talaat Moustafa showed no emotion Thursday as he was convicted and sentenced for ordering the killing of Tamim - the latest chapter in the sordid tale of sex, power, money and murder that was closely followed throughout the Middle East.

Many had wondered if the 50-year-old real estate mogul tied to President Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal, and an influential member of the ruling party, would get away with murder in a region where the rich are often thought to be above the law.

Befitting the drama, the courtroom erupted in chaos after the conviction and sentencing of Moustafa and the former government security officer, Mohsen el-Sukkary, who also faces the gallows. Pandemonium broke out as police and Moustafa's relatives clashed with reporters scrambling to talk to him. Moustafa's sister fainted and his two daughters burst into tears.


Al Jazeera English reports on the case.

Tamim rose to stardom after appearing in an Arab talent show similar to "American Idol" in 1996, appealing to Mideast audiences with her sultry dancing, cascading chestnut hair and melodramatic crooning. Typical of her songs was one from 2003 that spoke of the pain of lovers forced to separate.

She soon fell upon troubled times, separating from her Lebanese husband-manager who filed a series of lawsuits against her. She fled problems at home, seeking solace in Egypt.

Tamim and Moustafa met in the summer of 2004 at a Red Sea resort, according to transcripts of Moustafa's interrogation that were widely published in Egyptian newspapers.

El-Sukkary, the former security officer, said in the transcripts in the trial that Moustafa was "always with Tamim," that he kept a hotel suite for her, and that he took her around in his private jet.

Moustafa said they fell in love and that he wanted to marry her in 2006 but then retreated, allegedly over his mother's objections, and they broke up.

Tamim left Egypt, moved to London and hooked up with a kick-boxer. His lawyer said Tamim still felt threatened by the jealous tycoon, and she eventually ended up in Dubai.

Moustafa turned to el-Sukkary, who worked at his Cairo's Four Seasons Hotel. The prosecutor said the tycoon helped facilitate visas and tickets for el-Sukkary as he trailed the singer first to London, then to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in order to kill her.

Transcripts of alleged phone conversations kept by el-Sukkary and seized by police have Moustafa telling him, "The agreed amount is ready," and "Tomorrow, she is in London and you should act," a senior police official confirmed to The Associated Press.

In a later tape, el-Sukkary explains he missed his chance in London and "will wait to move it to Dubai." Moustafa chides him and then says, "OK, let's finish with this."At another point, el-Sukkary quoted Moustafa in the transcripts as saying: "I want you to throw her off the balcony, like Souad Hosni" - a reference to a movie star who lived in London and mysteriously fell off a balcony in 2001.

According to Dubai investigators, el-Sukkary stalked Tamim on the morning of July 28, 2008, to her apartment in the swanky Dubai Marina complex, overlooking a harbor full of yachts. From the lobby, he rang her video intercom, showing her an ID of the management company from which she had recently bought the apartment. She buzzed him in, police said.

Once inside, he attacked her repeatedly with a knife. Police found her body in a pool of blood, with multiple stab wounds and an 8-inch slash across her throat.

He then shed his overalls and cap, dumping them in a trash bin outside the building, officials said. The bloody clothes were found by police and tested positive for Tamim's DNA. Police say the killer's face also appeared on security camera video.

"It took 12 minutes for the murderer to enter the building, kill the victim and leave," Maj. Gen. Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina of the Dubai police said.

Leaked images of Tamim's dead body dominated headlines across the Middle East, and political overtones crept into the grisly crime.

El-Sukkary was arrested Aug. 6 in Egypt. Dubai police traveled to Cairo to present their evidence against him but then turned their attention to Moustafa.

Egypt declined to extradite Moustafa to the United Arab Emirates, insisting he be tried at home. That move was initially read by many Egyptians as opening the door for a slap on the wrist for Moustafa, who built a real estate empire of luxury hotels and resorts and was a leading force behind the pricey Western-style suburbs that ring Cairo.

As details of the crime hit the newsstands, the judge imposed a gag order and closed most of the 27 trial sessions to the public. Fueling the intrigue were Moustafa's ties to Gamal Mubarak, who is often touted to succeed his father as president. Moustafa, a member of parliament's upper house, the Shura Council, was also a member the ruling party's policies committee, which the younger Mubarak chairs.

For those reasons, Moustafa's conviction was all the more stunning to Egyptians.

The sentences still must be certified by the government's top religious official, the Grand Mufti. The defendants can appeal the ruling within 60 days of the mufti's decision effectively after June 25, a date set by the judge.

From his cell in one of Egypt's largest prisons, Moustafa wrote a letter last year that seemed to foretell his fate.

"Knives have been sharpened, tearing at my flesh," he wrote in the letter, published in September in an Egyptian newspaper. But "these lies will not be able to move the great pyramids I have constructed in the Egyptian economy."

And in an eerie footnote, a video of Tamim's song "Nawyahalou," - "I Will Get My Own Back" - was released after her death. In the video, Tamim is shown preparing a meal while waving a large knife in the air as a man spies on her through a window from another building.

She sings, "I will not shut up and will always be after him, in his fantasy and dream, I will be there with him and I will never let his eye sleep, I will make his heart soar."

  • Neil Katz

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