Egyptian tycoon’s sentence is reduced
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.
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.