Suzanne Tamim's killers await court ruling on retrial

A defence lawyer tries to refute evidence from Dubai police that helped convict the two men of killing the Lebanese singer in Dubai

(FILES) An undated file picture shows Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim posing during a photoshoot in Egypt. Egypt's public prosecutor charged Egyptian tycoon Hisham Talaat Mustafa in connection with the brutal killing of Tamim, state media reported on September 2, 2008. Tamim was found dead in the Gulf emirate of Dubai in July. AFP PHOTO/STR *** Local Caption ***  214885-01-08.jpg

CAIRO // A high-ranking politician and a former security officer sentenced to death for killing the Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim in Dubai will learn next month whether their appeals for a retrial are successful. Eleven judges from the Cassation Court heard arguments for more than five hours yesterday. They will decide on March 4 whether there will be a new trial for Hesham Talaat Moustafa, 50, an Egyptian property tycoon and senior member of the ruling National Democratic Party, and Mohsen el Sokari, 40, a former state security officer.

They were sentenced to death by the Cairo Criminal Court on May 21 after Moustafa was charged with hiring, inciting and assisting el Sokari to kill Tamim. Moustafa was said to have paid el Sokari US$2 million (Dh7.3m) to murder the 30-year-old singer, with whom he was romantically linked. Tamim was found dead on July 28, 2008. Her throat had been slit and she was lying in a pool of blood at the entrance to her flat at the Jumeirah Beach Residence.

The defendants' lawyers lodged the appeals in August of last year. The two men did not attend yesterday's session, and were not required to do so. Judge Adel Abdel Hamid, the new head of the Cassation Court, is leading the panel that will make the decision. He has a reputation for accepting appeals in death sentence cases. The defence lawyers' presentations did not vary much from their defence during the trial last year.

Atef el Manawi, el Sokari's chief lawyer, insisted that his client's arrest in Cairo on August 6, 2008, and his immediate questioning were illegal, as Dubai Police had only asked their Egyptian counterparts to investigate him. He was interrogated by the Egyptian prosecution without having a lawyer present. He attempted to discredit evidence presented by Dubai Police and the testimony of police officers and forensic specialists.

He also tried to cast doubt on the authenticity of footage obtained from surveillance cameras, insisting it was impossible to commit the crime in 12 minutes, as the camera's timer showed. Several lawyers with Moustafa, including Bahaa Abu Shoqa, a well-known appeals lawyer who took the case after the death sentence was passed, and Amal Othman, a former social affairs minister and a lawmaker with the ruling party, said there was no exact proof that Moustafa incited or assisted el Sokari to kill Tamim.

They also tried to refute the five mobile conversations between the two men, which el Sokari recorded on his mobile phone and presented to the police after his arrest. If the men's appeals are accepted, they would get a new trial within two months with a new three-judge panel at the criminal court. The defendants would remain in prison until the new trial started and for its duration. If the appeals are rejected, the death sentences will be imposed shortly after the defendants and their families are notified.

In Egypt, death sentences are carried out by hanging for citizens, and by firing squad for military officers. If the appeals are unsuccessful, the men can appeal directly to the prosecutor general or to the president.