Egyptian hotel tycoon sentenced to death


Egypt’s billionaire developer and former member of the Egyptian Parliament, Hisham Talaat Mustafa was sentenced to death yesterday May 21st for ordering the murder of his ex-girlfriend/mistress, Lebanese pop singer Suzanne Tamim. She was slain in her apartment in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The verdict against Mustafa, once a member of the ruling National Democratic Party, was the latest twist in a stunning drama that has offered a peek into the closely guarded realm of Egypt’s politicians and businessmen. It shows that even big-time businessmen are no longer above the law.

The Egyptian billionaire, luxury hotel and real estate builder, senator and business kingpin was arrested September 2nd last year in Cairo, after he was accused of paying his security to kill his 33-year old Lebanese mistress who he had a three-year relationship with. Tamim was found dead July 28, 2008 in her apartment at the Dubai Marina. She was a beautiful pop singer who rose to fame in the Arab world after having won the top prize in the popular talent show on television Studio El Fan in 1996.

Hitman Mohsen Al Sukkari, a 39-year-old former policeman from Egypt, was hired for a sum of $2 million from his boss Mustafa. Al Sukkari slashed her throat after pretending to be the home owner’s representative, while entering her apartment. He, too, has been sentenced to death. For Mustafa, the $2 M was no issue to at all.

He is one of the richest in Egypt being the the chairman of Talaat Mustafa Group, the biggest developer of fine real estate properties in modern-day Egypt. Mustafa owns all three Four Seasons Hotels in Cairo, Alexandria and Sharm El Sheikh and more.

As the CEO and managing director, Mustafa chaired the Alexandria Real Estate Investment (AREI) Company, spearheading ultra-progressive developments including Al Rehab, San Stefano, the Nile Plaza, Al Rabwa and the Mayfair that changed the face of Egypt. Together with Saudi Arabian Prince HRH Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, chairman of Kingdom Holding and one of the world’s wealthiest, Mustafa built the most stunning Four Seasons Hotel projects in Egypt, two of whom in Cairo’s premium areas, boasting high-end shopping malls, residential apartments, unrivalled restaurants and bars.

Mustafa and the Prince of Saudi gave Cairo an instant facelift across the busy, not-so-appealing Giza Zoo and the historic French attache’s office with the birth of the first Four Seasons Cairo First Residence in town. When Greater Cairo was short of five-star luxury hotels, the 2004 opening of the Four Seasons in the central district in Garden City made the Egyptian capital the only city in the Arab region with two of the most presigious chain hotels. Mustafa’s AREI projects with Kingdom Holding also included the construction of the San Stefano complex on Alexandria’s Corniche. The billion-dollar project is a redvelopment of the old San Stefano bought from the government by Mustafa in 1998. It includes the Four Seasons Hotel, a commercial center and parking lot near the beautification area along the Mediterranean coastline near Montazah in Alexandria. Furthermore, Mustafa built South Sinai’s Sharm el Sheikh Four Seasons much to the envy of neighboring hotels including the Ritz Carlton.

Not satisfied with his mega-million, glitzy, ritzy hotel empires, Mustafa thought for a while about the middle and upper-middle class, building them urban communities at Al Rehab. It was his largest project, the largest private sector project of its kind in Egypt. He wanted it to become a trend in the country after he received orders for 6000 accommodations after the first year of launch. Al Rehab was meant to cater to 8 M Egyptians who were to relocate from Cairo to ease the demographic pressures.

Al Rihab did not enjoy an issue-free development process. Christian residents of the New Cairo town of al-Rihab complained about the original town plan which promised to deliver a church and several mosques. Mustafa’s company failed its commitment to build the church citing the Ministry of Construction for approval considered to put up the church only outside the Rihab town boundary, making it serve the Christian community in the town and the neighboring areas as well; but the dwellers of which have no access to Rihab. The ministry assigned a plot of land no more than 100-meters away from Rehab as a site for a church to be built independent of any particular town. Christians revolted against Mustafa’s cunning, being the powerful man that he is.

In mid-February this year, Mustafa was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in order to face trial. Until his arrest, he was however dealing in contruction and functioned as the leading member of the ruling party’s highly influential Policies Committee chaired by Gamal Mubarak, the president’s son and heir apparent.

In court sitting in his caged defendant’s seat, Mustafa showed no emotions when his sentence was read. His family showed extreme remorse. The media and the rest of the crowd rushed to the cage, causing commotion in the court room, sort of showing that justice prevailed; and not even President Mubarak’s closest ally and Egypt’s wealthiest can obstruct the law.

A few months ago however, five Egyptian journalists were charged with breaching a gag order in his trial. They were ordered to pay hefty fines. During the hearing, the Sayyida Zainab Misdemeanors Court sentenced Magdi al-Galad, Yusri al-Badri, and Faruq al-Dissuqi, respectively the editor and reporters of the independent daily Al-Masry20Al-Youm, Abbas al-Tarabili, editor of the opposition daily Al-Wafd, and reporter Ibrahim Qaraa to a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$1,803) each. They were found guilty of violating a November 2008 court decision banning media coverage of the trial.

Yesterday’s trial was all over the press, making Egyptians aware of the fact that no hotel magnate escaped the murder charges he committed in Dubai.