CAIRO, Egypt – An Egyptian tycoon and an associate pleaded innocent Saturday to charges they orchestrated the gruesome murder of a Lebanese pop star in a case that has transfixed the Middle East.
Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim was stabbed to death in her apartment in Dubai in July. A month later, powerful Egyptian real estate mogul and lawmaker Hisham Talaat Moustafa was stripped of his parliamentary immunity and arrested for ordering the murder.
Moustafa, together with Mohsen el-Sukkary who is charged with actually carrying out the murder, appeared together dressed in white track suits in the packed courtroom's defendants' cage.
The charges of murder were read out in court and both men affirmed their innocence
"I didn't kill Suzanne. I didn't do it," el-Sukkary said from behind the bars.
Moustafa, surrounded with police in plainclothes inside and outside the cage, responded to the judge by saying, "It didn't happen. I presented all evidence to prove that it didn't. I ask for God's protection for he is my best advocate."
The two men were separated from each other by a partition inside the cage to prevent any possible scuffles as each is expected to blame the other for the murder.
The prosecution then admitted into evidence Tamim's white trousers, a Swiss army knife, fingerprint report, DNA tests, security camera tapes and transcripts of phone conversations between the two men allegedly about the murder.
Lawyers for Moustafa moved that he should be released on bail, which the judge refused.
"This is very dangerous not only on the defendant but on his 11 companies ... and the 60,000 employees and workers who work for him," Hafiz Farhoud, Moustafa's lawyer said, warning of the repercussions of keeping Moustafa in prison during trial.
The prosecution is expected to present a dozen witnesses, including policemen from the United Arab Emirates, where Tamim was murdered.
Security was tight outside the downtown Cairo courtroom with dozens of riot police surrounding the area, often scuffling with the large numbers of journalists covering the trial.
Tamim's slaying caught millions of Egyptians and Arabs across the region by surprise, not only because of the alleged involvement of the real estate mogul and well-connected businessman in a murder case, but in the mere arrest of those known for so long as the untouchables.
Moustafa, who is close to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal, is one of Egypt's top billionaires, the owner of luxury hotels and beach resorts and a leading force in building Western-style suburbs ringing Cairo for the upper-class.
The 30-year-old singer, famed for her striking green eyes, was found dead in her Dubai apartment in July, with multiple stab wounds and a 8-inch slash across her throat.
Egypt's public prosecutor has accused the tycoon of contracting for the singer's killing by paying U.S. $2 million to el-Sukkary, a former Egyptian State Security officer.
El-Sukkary worked at one of Egypt's Four Seasons Hotels, owned by Moustafa. The prosecutor said the tycoon helped facilitate visas and tickets for the security man as he trailed the singer first to London, then to Dubai.
The singer had moved to Dubai, friends say, to break off her relationship with Moustafa, who is married. She rose to stardom in the late 1990s but then hit troubled times, separating from her Lebanese husband-manager who filed a series of lawsuits against her.
According to Dubai investigators, el-Sukkary stalked the singer the morning of July 28 to her apartment in the swanky Dubai Marina complex. From the lobby, he rang her video intercom, showing her an ID of the management company from which she had recently bought the apartment. She buzzed him in, police say.
Once inside, he stabbed her repeatedly with a knife, then shed his overalls and cap, dumping them in a trash bin outside the building, officials said. They were found by police and tested for DNA. Police say the killer's face also appeared on security camera footage.
The trial was adjourned until Nov. 15.