Egyp­tian ty­coon’s sen­tence is re­duced

Los Angeles Times - - The World - Jef­frey Fleish­man re­port­ing from cairo jef­frey.fleish­man @latimes.com Amro Has­san in The Times’ Cairo Bureau con­trib­uted to this re­port.

In a murder case many Egyp­tians re­garded as a test of whether the wealthy here can es­cape jus­tice, a court Tues­day sen­tenced a po­lit­i­cally con­nected real es­tate mogul to 15 years in prison for or­der­ing the 2008 slay­ing of his lover, a trou­bled Le­banese pop diva.

The sen­tenc­ing of ho­tel builder and for­mer par­lia­ment mem­ber Hisham Talaat Mustafa, who in an ear­lier trial was given the death penalty, marks the lat­est in­stance in which mem­bers of Egypt’s busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal elite have had their crim­i­nal cases whit­tled down or fled the coun­try to avoid the sever­est pun­ish­ments.

In March, an ap­peals court set aside the death sen­tence against Mustafa in the murder of Suzanne Tamim, 31, and granted him and his con­victed ac­com­plice, Mohsen Sukkari, new tri­als. Mustafa and Sukkari, an ex-po­lice­man sen­tenced to 25 years for stab­bing Tamim in her apart­ment in Dubai, United Arab Emi­rates, can still ap­peal the lat­est ver­dicts.

The case has fas­ci­nated Egypt and much of the Arab world with its twists and turns and peeks into the minds and ob­ses­sions of the rich and pow­er­ful. It played like a soap opera, with a spurned bil­lion­aire pay­ing $2 mil­lion to a se­cu­rity guard at one of his re­sorts to kill a pop singer whose ca­reer was lan­guish­ing.

The mys­tery be­gan un­fold­ing in July 2008 when Mustafa, a mar­ried man in his 50s with three chil­dren, ar­ranged visas so that Sukkari could travel to Bri­tain and the United Arab Emi­rates to stalk and kill Tamim, who had left the ty­coon for an Iraqi kick­box­ing cham­pion.

There were DNA matches, credit card slips and other ev­i­dence, but few be­lieved Mustafa and Sukkari would as­cend the gal­lows, even as au­thor­i­ties in Dubai pres­sured Egypt for harsh jus­tice.

“This is a clas­sic case of what mar­riage be­tween pol­i­tics, money and busi­ness leads to,” said Saied Labib, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst. “I per­son­ally ex­pected Mustafa to get away with what­ever he did. The man is too pow­er­ful to re­ceive a death penalty, and, to be hon­est, I’m sur­prised he was sen­tenced to 15 years in jail to­day. But it all re­mains to be seen un­til af­ter the fi­nal ap­peal, be­cause maybe he will even­tu­ally get away with it.”

The re­trial, which be­gan in April, ended abruptly this week. The court handed down the sen­tence be­fore hear­ing from all the wit­nesses or the de­fense’s clos­ing state­ments. There were also ques­tions over a de­ci­sion in May by Tamim’s fa­ther to drop his civil suit against Mustafa and re­lease a state­ment sug­gest­ing that the busi­ness­man had not been in­volved in his daugh­ter’s death.

One of Mustafa’s lawyers, Ba­haa Abu Shakka, crit­i­cized the court’s rul­ing, say­ing: “I was sur­prised with the swift ver­dict, which vi­o­lates the crim­i­nal court’s pro­ce­dures. The judge did not even hear the de­fen­dant’s lawyers or lis­ten to their ar­gu­ment.”

Be­fore his ar­rest, Mustafa was a prom­i­nent mem­ber of the rul­ing Na­tional Demo­cratic Party and head of Talaat Mustafa Group, which built ho­tels and busi­nesses through­out the Mid­dle East, in­clud­ing at the Egyp­tian re­sort Sharm el Sheik.

On Sun­day, the Egyp­tian govern­ment ap­proved an es­ti­mated $3-bil­lion land deal with Mustafa’s cor­po­ra­tion de­spite a court rul­ing that the ven­ture was il­le­gal be­cause the land was not put up for pub­lic auc­tion.

Khaled Desouki

IN COURT: Hisham Talaat Mustafa. His trial was seen as a test of whether the wealthy es­cape jus­tice.

SLAIN: Singer Suzanne Tamim, Mustafa’s ex­girl­friend, was stabbed to death by a man he hired.

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