Tamim accused pleads from his cell

Found guilty and sentenced to death, property tycoon says he learnt of his appeal's success while watching TV in prison with his wife.

Egyptian billionaire businessman Hesham Talaat Moustafa sits inside the defendant's cage during his trial for the killing of Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim.
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CAIRO // In a letter written from prison, an Egyptian billionaire sentenced to death for ordering the killing of a Lebanese singer in Dubai praised his country's judiciary following a decision to grant him a retrial.

Hesham Talaat Moustafa, 50, a property tycoon and a senior member of the ruling National Democratic Party, also warned the media not to "run after excitement and fame" at his expense. Moustafa was found guilty last year of hiring a former state security officer to kill Suzanne Tamim, 30, at her Jumeirah Beach Residence flat in July 2008. Moustafa was convicted of paying US$2 million (Dh7.3m) to Mohsen el Sokari, 40, to kill Tamim, with whom he was romantically involved. The two men were found guilty, but their appeal was accepted on Thursday and they will receive a new trial at Cairo Criminal Court.

In the letter, published on a full page in the state-owned Akhbar el Youm newspaper on Saturday, Moustafa emphasised his innocence and promosed to continue running his family's company when he leaves prison. "God knows I'm innocent from this accusation that brought the death sentence upon me," he wrote. "I was strong, composed and sure that justice would prevail." He said he was watching TV in prison along with his wife, and when they saw the appeal had been accepted, they screamed, "Thank God!"

"The tears of happiness of my wife and sister hurt me so much because I felt I'm the reason for shedding those dear tears and the pain inflicted on all my family - who all believe in my innocence and that all what I'm going through is a test from God," he said in the letter, which was accompanied by a large photograph of him. He asked the media, which he claimed was biased against him during the trial, "to fear God during the upcoming trial, out of respect for my right of fair trial without external influence and my right to be treated as innocent until convicted, to abide by journalists code of honour, and not to run after excitement and fame at my expense".

In the letter, he emphasised his trust in the Egyptian judiciary and said he believes the new court will find him innocent. He said he does not hold a grudge against Muhammadi Qonsowa, the head of the judging panel that sentenced him to death. "When the death sentence was issued, I didn't panic, because I belong to God, and the date of meeting Him is destined, nothing will change it," Moustafa wrote.

Since the verdict, he said, he had become closer to God, read the Quran more than once, and was not bothered by anything "except being away from my family, loved ones, people in my constituency and the employees in Talaat Moustafa Group". He thanked his sister, Sahar, who did not miss a session of his trial until Thursday, when she was visiting him in Tora prison. He also thanked his defence team, which included seven prominent lawyers - two during the original trial, and five who joined for the appeal.

"They all believed in my innocence which is a source of my pride and have reached the conclusion that there has been a conspiracy to frame me in this case, which details will be revealed soon, God willing," Moustafa wrote. He said his first project after his release would be to finance the marriage of 1,000 couples, under the auspices of Akhbar el Youm. He originally announced that plan a few days before his arrest in September 2008, when he returned from Europe to clear his name after el Sokari implicated him.

He concluded his letter by saying "I miss you" to his family, friends and the employees of Talaat Moustafa Group. "When I regain my freedom and innocence, God willing, I will prove to them that I deserved their trust, and will go back to work and production process with all my strength, to make up for lost time, and for Talaat Moustafa Group, to remain a symbol of honesty and trust, and one of Egypt's lofty economic edifices," he wrote.

Two attorneys who joined the defence team for the appeal, Bahaa Abu Shaqa and his son, Mohammed, said they would not participate in the new trial if the group included Farid el Deeb, who was Moustafa's chief lawyer. "It's impossible to work with Mr Farid el Deeb, with all due respect, as he's been waging war against us since we joined the appeal case, upon Hesham's request," Mohammed Abu Shaqa said. "He's not acting as part of a co-operative team, but as a bitter competitor."

No date has been set for the new trial, but Moustafa is expected to decide on his defence team in the near future. He and el Sokari will remain in prison until the trial begins. If they are found guilty again, they could be sentenced to death by hanging or 25 years in prison. If another guilty verdict is declared and a second appeal is allowed, the Cassation Court would issue a final verdict. @Email:nmagd@thenational.ae