The retrial of real-estate mogul and ruling party bigwig Hisham Talaat Mostafa resumed on Wednesday with prosecutors introducing what they called “incriminating evidence” against the defendant and his alleged accomplice in the 2008 murder of Lebanese pop singer Suzanne Tamim.
In the second session of the retrial, the criminal court heard recorded phone calls made between Mostafa, 50, and Mohsen el-Sukari, a former state security policeman allegedly hired by the businessman to kill Tamim in her Dubai apartment. It was the first time for the recordings to be played aloud in court. In the first trial, call transcripts were simply read aloud by prosecutors.
The retrial itself began on Monday, with both Mostafa and el-Sukari pleading not guilty to all of the charges. Both defendants were present in the dock during Monday’s and Wednesday’s sessions amid heavy security both inside and outside the courtroom.
In the phone calls, el-Sukari could be heard talking to Mostafa about an “operation” that the latter wanted done in London, while also discussing money issues. In another phone call, el-Sukari could be heard saying that the woman they were trailing had left London for Dubai. Tamim is not referred to by name. Both defendants had referred to a “she” who had left for Dubai, where she was residing with a man, according to the phone call.
Mostafa could also be heard asking el-Sukari why the job had not yet been executed and the operation delayed.
In one phone call, apparently made when Tamim was still in London, Mostafa–in a line that would later be widely reported–states: “The best prototype in this situation is Ashraf Marwan.” Marwan was an ex-Egyptian spy who died in London after falling off a balcony; many believed he was murdered and his death made to look like suicide. In the recording, el-Sukari agrees that this is “the best way” and that the operation would be done in this manner.
Mostafa then adds, “But I want a specific date for this, maximum one week or ten days.” When el-Sukari begins elaborating on the “operation,” Mostafa cuts him off saying, “Let’s not talk about these things on the phone.”
In another phone conversation, Mostafa can be heard questioning el-Sukari about why those who were hired to follow her in London had lost her trail. “How did you lose her like that after you were following her?” he asks, to which el-Sukari responds by saying that surveillance was being paid for by the hour, so he has to lift it at certain junctures in order to cut costs.
In yet another phone conversation, el-Sukari tells Mostafa that “the operation was called off with the people in London,” after noting that he had acquired pictures “of her and him,” along with “20 percent of the money.” El-Sukari says that, “after losing her trail, we discovered she’s in Dubai. There are pictures of them together on a beach. She’s been with him for more than 15 days now. She’s living with him.”
Prosecutors say that all these represent clear references to Tamim.
Screen-shots of Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) footage showing el-Sukari coming in and out of a Dubai hotel, and into the building where Tamim had resided in Dubai around the time of the crime, were also exhibited in court. El-Sukari spoke from the dock, saying that only a few of the images in which his face is visible were authentic and claiming that they weren’t surveillance shots taken near the hotel entrances but rather at the hotel gymnasiums.
“Look at the glass door in the background,” he said from the defendant’s cage. “These are not hotel doors that the public can use. These are glass doors leading to the gym, sauna and jacuzzi areas of the hotel … I was coming in and out of the gym and sauna … Dubai is misleading us,” he said.
Fareed el-Deeb, defense lawyer for Mostafa, and Atef el-Manawy, lawyer for el-Sukari, both recorded their objections to the screen-shots, saying they were not clear, that they had been chosen “selectively,” and that their time codes were inaccurate. “The time codes written by hand in red on top of the pictures do not correspond to the actual time codes written outside of the frame,” the lawyers said.
They both strongly hinted that the pictures had been tampered with “in someone’s interests” and blamed Dubai authorities “for withholding visual evidence” and refusing to hand in the complete CCTV camera footage of el-Sukari. Both defense lawyers requested that the “entire footage,” around 8,000 hours, be looked at again–something that could further delay the trial and perhaps “take years,” according to one civil rights prosecutor.
The retrial is being presided over by three panel judges headed by Adel Abdel-Salam Gomaa, who said that the “expert” that extracted the images from the CCTV footage would be summoned to court. The court will meet again on Thursday, 29 April, in the morning.
Mostafa, along with el-Sukari, was convicted in the first trial and slapped with a death sentence for inciting the murder of Tamim. Mostafa’s lawyers, however, pointing to legal errors, filed an appeal. The court ended up ruling in favor of Mostafa by overruling the death sentence, accepting the appeal and ordering a retrial.
Two days earlier, during the first session of the retrial, the court had heard how el-Sukari had stalked and followed Tamim’s every move in London and the United Arab Emirates, and how he had attacked her in her Dubai apartment, cutting her throat with a knife and stabbing her repeatedly in return for a US$2-million payment.
Mostafa had commissioned and assisted the murder “in an act of revenge,” prosecutors said, after he had been romantically involved with the singer, who reportedly left him later for someone else.