Page last updated at 11:57 GMT, Thursday, 21 May 2009 12:57 UK

Suzanne Tamim: Murder that gripped the Middle East

Hisham Talaat Moustafa in the dock after hearing his sentence 21/05/2009
Moustafa looked shocked as the verdict was read out that he would be hanged

By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Cairo

The plot reads like the storyline of a sordid Egyptian soap opera.

The victim: Suzanne Tamim, winner of a pop idol contest in Lebanon who rose to fame across the Arab world, but who was well known for her troubled private life.

She was found dead last July in a luxury Dubai apartment with multiple stab wounds to the face and throat.

The unlikely suspect: one of Egypt's most prominent businessmen Hisham Talaat Moustafa, a member of the ruling National Democratic Party, with a seat in the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, and a personal friend of the Egyptian president's son, Gamal Mubarak.

Scene from Suzanne Tamim video
By horrible coincidence, Tamim posed with a knife in one of her pop videos

Moustafa seemed so wealthy and powerful that many people believed he could actually get away with murder.

But his extraordinary fall from grace ended with a death sentence.

The court heard that he paid a security guard $2m to kill his former lover, who had rejected his offer of marriage.

It was reported she had moved to London shortly before her death, to live with an Iraqi-born kickboxer, Riyad al-Azawi.

Mr Azawi had complained to the police about the threats they had received.

And when Ms Tamim's brutal murder took place in Dubai, suspicion fell on her spurned secret lover.

Vital clues

Moustafa had it all, but he couldn't keep Ms Tamim and his jealous rage eventually destroyed him.

The Dubai investigators had discovered a shoe print at the murder scene.

Born in Lebanon, September 1977
Winner of Studio El Fan talent show in 1996
Married former classmate Ali MOuzannar (divorced in 2002), followed by music producer Adel Matouk

They tracked down the Dubai shoe shop where the shoe had been bought, which in turn led them to the security guard - a former Egyptian police officer, Muhsin al-Sukkari.

He had been caught on camera leaving the murder scene and clothes found at the apartment also carried his DNA.

In his Egyptian apartment, police found the cash which Moustafa had given him.

The crucial evidence was the recorded telephone conversations between the hit man and the politician who had paid him.

According to the transcripts printed in the Egyptian press, Moustafa had suggested it be made to look like an accident:

Moustafa: "The best solution is for her to be thrown from the balcony, like what happened with Ashraf Marwan in London.

(Marwan was an Egyptian billionaire and alleged spy for Israel who fell to his death from the fifth floor balcony of his London home. The case has yet to be resolved.)

Moustafa: "The agreed upon amount is ready. She is in London….deal with it…."

Sukkari: "The place for it to be carried out has moved to Dubai… the matter needs careful preparation... she has many people around her."


Tamim was a popular star with a voice of classical beauty

Escaping justice

In the cage the colour drained from Moustafa's face, in the sudden realisation that his life in the privileged circle of Egypt's ruling elite was no more. He knew it was a story that could yet end at the gallows.

Unidentified relatives of Hisham Talaat Moustafa react to death sentence verdict
The powerful Moustafa dynasty had not expected such a harsh verdict

Reporting of the case throughout this trial was banned, a ruling that attracted sharp criticism from the Arab press.

Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party has been criticised before for mixing wealth with political power.

Too often in this country high-profile figures have escaped the law because of their government connections.

Yet so compelling was the evidence compiled by the Dubai authorities that on this occasion the government had no alternative but to strip Moustafa of his parliamentary immunity.

The case will inevitably go to appeal.

In the meantime Egypt's religious authorities will be asked to sanction the death sentence that was handed down by the court.

The verdict has financial implications for the country. After it was read out, shares in Moustafa's real estate company TMG began to tumble, dropping 16% on the opening of the Egyptian Stock Exchange.

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