Lebanese pop star killer to be hanged

CAIRO: A Cairo court sentenced to death on Thursday an Egyptian tycoon and an ex-cop hitman for the murder last year of the businessman's former lover, Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim.

The judge ordered Hisham Talaat Mustafa and retired policeman Mohsen al-Sukkari hanged for respectively ordering and carrying out the brutal slaying of the singer in a luxury Dubai apartment in July.

Mustafa, a stalwart of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party, was found guilty of paying Sukkari two million dollars to cut the throat of Tamim, 30, at the Dubai flat she bought months before the murder.

Chaos erupted in the packed courtroom after the judge read the verdict and ordered the men's sentences referred to the mufti for confirmation.

The accused's family members wept, and some of Mustafa's entourage grappled with photographers and cameramen who rushed to the cages where the two men were held after the judge read out the verdict. Mustafa's wife fainted.

Sukkari, who had read from a copy of the Koran, and pensively smoked a cigarette before the judge entered the court, trembled and turned pale after the verdict was read out.

Abdel Sattar Tamim, the slain singer's father, told AFP in Beirut that the family was satisfied with the verdict and was now awaiting the final ruling by the mufti.

"We have full faith in the Egyptian judicial system and we are awaiting the final ruling," he told AFP. "The family is all gathered and we are following this closely.

"We are also in close contact with the attorneys in Cairo."

The case with its mix of wealth, show business and politics has gripped Egypt, where powerful businessmen are rarely seen to face justice.

Samir al-Shishtawi, one of Mustafa's lawyers, told reporters that the defence would appeal the verdict.

"I want to assure Talaat Mustafa's family that this verdict will be overturned by the appeals court," he said.

Mustafa ordered the killing after Tamim, who had previously married two men in the music business, tied the knot with Iraqi kick-boxing champion Riyad al-Azzawi, whom she met at London's renowned Harrods department store.

Sukkari followed her to Dubai to stake out Tamim's flat. He then bought a knife, went to the apartment saying he worked for the building owner and killed her when she opened the door.

Mustafa, 49, was arrested in September and had his immunity lifted as member of the Shura Council, Egypt's upper house of parliament.

He ran the Talaat Mustafa Group real estate conglomerate that is worth several billion dollars, and is said to have been close to President Hosni Mubarak's son and heir apparent, Gamal.

Shares in the group, TMG Holdings, dropped 18 percent on the Egyptian Stock Exchange at opening following the sentencing.

Talaat Mustafa Group appointed Tarek Talaat Mustafa, Hisham's brother, chairman of the board and chief executive officer following his arrest.

Tamim's life had been marred by domestic disputes, including a rocky marriage with her second husband and agent, who had accused her in 2004 of being behind an attempt on his life.

Egyptian media said Tamim had a three-year relationship with Mustafa that ended several months before her death.

Sukkari, who headed security at one of Mustafa's hotels, was arrested after Dubai police found his footprint at the crime scene, found the shop where he bought his shoes and tracked him through his credit card.

Sukkari was arrested a week later in Egypt.

Evidence presented by the prosecution included recordings of conversations between Mustafa and Sukkari, taped by the former member of Egypt's feared state security services.

State news paper Al-Ahram had published partial transcripts of the recordings, in which Mustafa suggested that Tamim be thrown from a balcony, or run over by a car.

The prosecution also submitted video footage captured by a security camera of Sukkari entering and leaving Tamim's apartment on the morning of the murder.

The police officer who arrested Sukkari testified that Sukkari said in interrogation that Mustafa asked for Tamim's severed head to be delivered before he payed for the killing, Al-Ahram reported.

The judge imposed a media blackout on the case after Mustafa's defence team published a book, reportedly by the tycoon himself, proclaiming his innocence.

Five journalists and editors were fined 10,000 pounds each for defying the gag order.