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Sat 18 Oct 2008 12:48 PM

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Egyptian magnate pleads not guilty to Tamim murder

UPDATE 1: Moustafa and former police officer deny killing Lebanese singer.

Egyptian construction magnate Hesham Talaat Moustafa and a former police officer pleaded not guilty to murder and incitement charges on Saturday at their trial for the killing of Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim.

Moustafa, a member of parliament for the ruling National Democratic Party, is charged with paying security man Muhsen El-Sukkari $2 million for stabbing Tamim to death at her house in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on July 28.

The charge sheet said that Moustafa's motive was revenge but it did not explain their relationship in detail.

In response to the charges, Moustafa told a packed courtroom in central Cairo: "It did not happen and I have presented all the evidence that I am not guilty."

"It did not happen," said El-Sukkari. "By Almighty God my blood is innocent of her."

The two defendants appeared in metal cages in the courtroom, in line with normal Egyptian practice. Hundreds of policemen protected the streets around the building in case of trouble.

Lawyers representing two men close to Tamim attended the hearing - one for her Lebanese husband Adel Matouk and one for Riyadh Al-Azzawi, the Iraqi-British kickboxer who says he was married to Tamim for the last 18 months of her life.

Media reports have repeatedly said that Tamim and Matouk divorced but Matouk says they were still married when she died.

Al-Azzawi told the British newspaper the Sunday Times in September that Moustapha had had an affair with Tamim and had then offered her $50 million to leave Al-Azzawi.

The arrest of Moustafa in September, after weeks of speculation about the case, hit the value of shares in Talaat Moustafa Group, the real estate development company which Moustafa's late father created and which Moustafa chaired.

The shares fell to 4.86 pounds ($0.87) after the arrest, from a peak of 13.46 pounds in January. They have since fallen ever further, to 3.51 pounds earlier this month, but mainly because the market as a whole has slumped.

The indictment says El-Sukkari killed Tamim after tricking her into opening the door of her Dubai apartment by posing as a representative of the building owners.

"He then attacked her with the knife... cutting her main arteries and her trachea," it said. "This was on the instigation of the second defendant [Moustafa] in return for obtaining from him the sum of $2 million for committing this crime."

The indictment said Moustafa "took part through incitement, agreement and assistance with the first defendant [El-Sukkari] in killing the victim in revenge".

The evidence includes tape recordings of telephone calls between Moustafa and El-Sukkari, security video footage from the Dubai apartment and DNA from the bloodied clothes that El-Sukkari allegedly left close to the scene of the crime.

Moustafa, who was born in 1959, has given up the chairmanship of the Talaat Moustafa Group to his brother Tarek and has been stripped of the legal immunity he enjoyed as a member of the upper house of parliament.

Tamim, who died at the age of 30, rose to fame after winning the top prize in a television show in 1996.

The Egyptian judiciary is trying the case because Egyptian law does not allow the extradition of Egyptian citizens to face trial in other countries. The case resumes on Nov. 15. (Reuters)

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