Egypt’s tycoon gets a light verdict, instead of death sentence

An Egyptian court has handed a billionaire accused of killing his popstar lover a lighter sentence of just 15 years after an earlier trial sentenced him to death, the state news agency said Tuesday.

The judge said Hisham Talaat Moustafa, a prominent member of the ruling party, was convicted of inciting the murder of 30-year-old Suzanne Tamim, a Lebanese singer, and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The timing of the verdict comes as a surprise because the judge had not announced he would be issuing his decision and had yet to hear the defense's summation.

The Egyptian real estate tycoon was sentenced to death in May 2009 after being convicted of paying a retired Egyptian police officer US$2 million to kill Tamim while she was in Dubai in July 2008. The court in March overturned the conviction on procedural grounds and ordered a retrial.

Mohsen al-Sukkary's murder conviction remained, but his sentence was also lightened to just life in prison, which is 25 years under the Egyptian penal code.

Prison years, under the Egyptian system are counted as nine months long, meaning that Moustafa could be released in just a matter of years, counting time served.

The initial allegations shocked Egyptians unused to seeing powerful politicians perceived as untouchables taken to court, and the new light sentences are certain to raise charges that Moustafa's influence kept him from the gallows.

Moustafa, a member of parliament's upper house, the Shura Council, also was a member the ruling party's policies committee, which is chaired by President Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal.

The tycoon heads one of the country's main real estate companies, a family-run business, that continues to flourish despite the trial.He is also cherished by a number of Egyptians who see him as a businessman that spent generously on charity, funded a hospital in his hometown Alexandria and families in need.

The Moustafa-Tamim affair began in 2004, when the two met at a Red Sea resort, according to transcripts of Moustafa's interrogation that were widely published in Egyptian newspapers. Tamim, who rose to stardom in the late 1990s, had sought his help to divorce from her husband, according to media reports.

During interrogations, Moustafa said he broke up with his former lover Tamim after his mother opposed the couple's marriage plan. Moustafa, who is already married, comes from a religiously conservative Muslim family.

Dubai investigators claimed al-Sukkary followed Tamim to her apartment in the swanky Dubai Marina complex and entered using an ID of the management company from which she had recently bought her place. Blood-soaked clothes were found dumped outside the building.

Al-Sukkary was arrested in August 2008 in Egypt. Moustafa was arrested in September of the same year.

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