Lawyer says tycoon 'was good father' to slain singer

Court told about relationship between Suzanne Tamim and the Egyptian billionaire accused of hiring a hitman to kill her.

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CAIRO // A lawyer who once worked for the slain Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim came out in support for the Egyptian tycoon on trial for arranging her murder in court testimony yesterday. Clara al Rumaily spent more than six hours testifying about the relationship between Tamim, 31, and Hisham Talaat Moustafa, 49, a billionaire and senior member of Egypt's ruling party. She told the packed courtroom that Mr Moustafa had been like a "father" to the troubled singer before their relationship became romantic. Ms al Rumaily also said she was unaware of any problems between Tamim and Mr Moustafa. She even speculated that they might have secretly married.

"I and her family were very assured about Tamim in Egypt because we knew she was in safe hands," she told the court. "Then the relationship developed, and Hisham offered to pay to help her finalise her marriage problems with Adel Maatouk, as the couple had decided to get married." Ms al Rumaily, 38, a Lebanese national, said she started working as Tamim's lawyer in 2004 when her client was living in Egypt and was having legal issues with her two ex-husbands, Ali Mozanar and Adel Maatouk.

Ms al Rumaily said Mr Moustafa paid Mr Maatouk US$1.2 million (Dh4.6m) to divorce Tamim, but he still refused to finalise the divorce papers and threatened her. Mr Moustafa is accused of hiring Mohsen el Sokari, 39, a former Egyptian state security officer, to kill Tamim for $2m on July 28, in her flat in Dubai's Jumeirah Beach Residence. Tamim's lawyer said that Mr Moustafa had taken her client, as well as her father, mother, brother and grandparents to perform Omra, the lesser pilgrimage. Once there, he introduced Tamim to his mother, who refused to condone the marriage.

Mr Moustafa is married to his cousin, with whom he has three adolescent sons. After failing to marry Mr Moustafa, Tamim moved to London, where she met Riyadh al Azawi, an Iraqi-born British boxer. According to Ms al Rumaily, Mr al Azawi "controlled Tamim, who was never the same since she met him". "He had a bad reputation as a man who lives off women's money," she told the court, adding that Mr al Azawi "had convinced Tamim to file a complaint against Moustafa, falsely accusing him of threatening to kill her".

This happened as Tamim's brother was working with Mr Moustafa, who was helping her whole family, said Ms al Rumaily, adding they used to stay at his Four Seasons Hotel, where Tamim had been living while in Cairo. Ms al Rumaily said that despite Tamim's "intimate relationship" with Mr al Azawi, Moustafa was willing to pay another $1.5m to help end Tamim's problems with her two ex-husbands, who still maintain they were married to her.

Mohammed Salman, one of Mr al Azawi's lawyers, asked Ms al Rumaily whether she knew that Moustafa had attempted to take legal action to freeze Tamim's assets in a bank in Switzerland. "Yes. I and her mother were very keen on preventing [Mr] al Azawi from taking away Suzanne's money, by any means," said Ms al Rumaily. "So Hisham filed the lawsuit because all of this money was his." Al Mohammai Qonsowa, the presiding judge, asked why she had not mentioned this issue before.

"Because you didn't ask me," she said. Ms al Rumaily said she has been in constant touch with Mr Moustafa, who called her "one or two days after Tamim was killed". However, while she continued to represent Tamim, the singer did not tell her about the move to Dubai. The lawyer learned of her death from the media. Tamim took sleeping pills, said Ms al Rumaily. She did not rise early and "would never open the door for a stranger".

"Suzanne didn't tell me that she feared for her life," she said. Today the court will hear evidence from the last witness, Hossam Hassan, chief accountant of Moustafa's company.