CAIRO: In an unprecedented incident, judge Adel Abdel-Salam Gomaa sentenced business tycoon Hisham Talaat Moustafa on Tuesday to 15 years in prison for inciting the murder of Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim — before the rest of the witnesses could give their testimonies.
Lawyers had not made their pleas prior to Gomaa’s decision.
Former police officer Mohsen Al-Sukkari was sentenced in the same case to 25 years in prison for carrying out the murder back in July 2008 in Dubai. He was also sentenced to three more years for using an unregistered weapon.
“Some witnesses gave their testimonies and we were waiting for the rest of them to testify after the judge adjourned the session. About five minutes later we were surprised to find him pronouncing the verdicts,” lawyer Atef El-Menawy, representing Al-Sukkari, told Daily News Egypt.
“Lawyers were not [even] given the chance to make their pleas … I’m 72 years old and throughout my long career as a lawyer I have never witnessed such an incident,” El-Menawy added.
The justifications of the verdicts are usually released within 30 days of the verdict. Lawyers can contest the verdict within 60 days. The lawyers of the two convicts will therefore have a final chance to contest the verdicts before a higher cassation court.
Moustafa’s lawyers are partially satisfied with the verdict.
“For this phase, thank God Moustafa escaped a life sentence and execution,” Moustafa’s lawyer Farid El-Deeb told Daily News Egypt. “But I still can’t understand the logic behind the court’s decision to [give a verdict] before listening to the lawyers’ pleas.”
“Based on legal rules, the verdict is considered invalid [for being given suddenly]. So I will object to the procedural invalidity,” El-Deeb added.
Gomaa had ordered during the previous hearing on Sunday that another session be held on Thursday for witnesses summoned from Dubai to testify in the case.
Moustafa’s defense team had earlier called on the court to respond to five of the 13 demands previously presented. El-Menawy, however, insisted that all requests should be fulfilled, including an examination of the crime scene in Dubai by the Egyptian court.
In Tuesday’s hearing the court also listened to the testimony of the forensics doctor, who confirmed that the DNA samples received from Dubai were valid.
On the other hand, Moustafa’s defense argued that the samples could have been spoiled inside the plastic bags in which the samples were stored and delivered to Egypt.
In May 2009, Moustafa and Al-Sukkari were found guilty of the murder of Tamim and were sentenced to death by hanging in the initial trial.
However, a higher cassation court overturned the death verdict, ordering a retrial in March 2010 due to legal errors in the first trial.
Al-Sukkari is accused of carrying out the murder — a brutal killing in which Tamim was stabbed several times and had her throat slit — at the behest of Moustafa, who was romantically involved with the singer.
Al-Sukkari was allegedly paid $2 million by Moustafa to commit the murder. The court ordered that the sum would be confiscated.
Moustafa, the billionaire and former MP and chairman of the construction giant Talaat Moustafa Group, was arrested in Sept. 2008 after his parliamentary immunity was lifted. He was also a member of the policies secretariat of the National Democratic Party.
After his arrest, the chairmanship of the company was transferred to Moustafa’s brother, Tarek Moustafa.
In recent news, Talaat Moustafa Group’s stock shares have risen by 2 percent. In a case that has gripped the Arab public’s attention, with each twist and turn in the courtroom, the company’s stock has climbed and fallen accordingly. –Additional reporting by Reuters.
Policemen restore order in the courtroom, Tuesday, Sept. 28, after the verdict on Hisham Talaat Moustafa. (AP Photo/Maher Malak)