Egyptian tycoon to hang for Lebanese diva murder


June 18, 2010 Updated Jun 25, 2009 at 8:10 AM EDT

A Cairo court on Thursday confirmed a death sentence against an Egyptian tycoon and an ex-cop hitman for the murder of a Lebanese pop star after the verdict was approved by Egypt's top cleric.

Judge Al-Mohammedi Qunsua confirmed sentences of death by hanging for Hisham Talaat Mustafa and retired policeman Mohsen al-Sukkari for respectively ordering and carrying out the killing of Suzanne Tamim in a luxury Dubai apartment in July 2008.

The court initially issued its verdict in May, but in line with Islamic law, the death sentence had to be approved by the country's mufti.

The defendants were escorted out of the courtroom after the verdict which was greeted calmly by their friends and relatives, an AFP correspondent said, in sharp contrast to scenes of screaming and fainting during the May hearing.

Since his appointment as mufti in 2003, Sheikh Ali Gomaa has received 480 requests to review death sentences and only refused two of them.

Executions are carried out in secrecy in Egypt, after which a black flag is hoisted over the prison.

Mustafa and Sukkari can still appeal the decision, a justice official said.

Mustafa, a stalwart of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party, was found guilty in May of paying Sukkari two million dollars to cut the throat of his one-time lover at the Dubai flat she bought months before the murder.

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

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 Tamim, 30, to Dubai to stake out her 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 a 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 until his arrest, when the group appointed his brother Tareq Talaat Mustafa chairman of the board and chief executive officer.

Mustafa is said to be close to President Hosni Mubarak's son and heir apparent, Gamal.

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.

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

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