Tycoon condemned for slaying

The New York TimesMay 22, 2009 

  • The victim: Suzanne Tamim shot to fame in an "American Idol"-style TV show. The Lebanese beauty's pop songs about love's agony mirrored her troubled life.

    The convicted: Hisham Talaat Moustafa, the man reported to be Tamim's secret lover, is a married, politically powerful Egyptian real estate tycoon.

— A once powerful and wealthy Egyptian businessman was sentenced to death on Thursday for hiring a hit man to kill a Lebanese pop singer in a case that has captivated the Middle East for nearly a year with its storyline of revenge, power and money.

The businessman, Hisham Talaat Moustafa, was a multimillionaire who seemed to have it all. He headed a real estate company, was a member of the upper house of parliament and had close ties to the family of President Hosni Mubarak.

Then Suzanne Tamim was found dead in July, slashed and stabbed in her apartment in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. She was 30, a pop diva and, it was charged, had fled from a failed relationship with Moustafa.

A little after 9 a.m. Thursday, Judge Muhammadi Qunsuwa entered a rundown, litter-strewn courtroom in the center of Cairo. He read a one-line verdict. It was death.

Moustafa showed no emotion.

He stood in a prisoners' cage, a black box of bars and metal mesh about 7 feet tall. He wore a white prison jumpsuit and turned his back to the crush of journalists and family and friends who had crowded the room. The man whom prosecutors say he hired, Mohsen Sukary, was in the cage next to him, reading the Quran.

He received the death sentence, too.

Moustafa was hustled out of the courtroom amid tight security. The crowd charged in toward the prisoners' cage. Friends and family members cried out in shock. Moustafa's wife collapsed in the courtroom, and a young man fainted, and was carried out on an officer's shoulder.

Sukary turned pale, crossed his arms over his chest and mumbled to himself before being taken away.

Under Egyptian law, the country's chief religious official, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, must review all death sentences. His decision will be finalized next month, but there is no reason to expect the court's decision will be overruled, experts said.

The case of Moustafa and Tamim grabbed public attention because of the spectacular characters, and the locales involved: Dubai, the fast-moving emirate in the Persian Gulf with influence far beyond its size, and Egypt, the floundering crisis-plagued state where power and money often buy immunity from the law.

Egyptian officials were keen to point to the verdict on Thursday as proof that there is rule of law in Egypt and that even someone as influential as Moustafa would be forced to pay the ultimate penalty for his crime.

"There are no pressures on the Egyptian judiciary," said Ismail el-Shaer, head of Cairo security, as he stood outside the courthouse, smiling. "If there was any pressure, then this would not have been the verdict. If there was pressure, then they would have at least been susceptible to domestic pressure because he is an influential man."

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