‘Marry me for $50m – or you’re dead’
The husband of a murdered pop diva has spoken for the first time of how she feared she would be killed by a professional hitman, allegedly hired by her former lover.
Riyadh Alazzawi has told The Sunday Times that police in London were warned of the threats to his wife, Suzanne Tamim, but failed to act. The couple spent 18 months in London living in fear.
“I was there to protect her, but was doing it all by myself,” claimed Alazzawi. “I didn’t get any help.” He said his wife’s former lover had offered Tamim $50m (about £28m) to lure her away — and threatened to pay $1m to have her killed if she refused.
Alazzawi met Tamim, a beautiful Lebanese singer, in Harrods two years ago. She was already receiving some threats to her life and he, a world kickboxing champion, had offered to help protect her. The couple became close and married last year.
Six weeks ago, however, Tamim was murdered while on a visit to Dubai: she suffered multiple stab wounds and had her throat slit. Prosecutors have charged a prominent Egyptian MP and business tycoon with arranging to pay a hitman £1m to travel to Dubai and kill her. Both men may face the death penalty if convicted.
The case has caused a sensation in the Arab media with its insight into the world of Middle Eastern celebrity, power, intrigue and revenge.
This weekend Alazzawi revealed how he and Tamim were routinely followed, harassed and subjected to a series of telephone threats while living in London. He believed the threats came from the Egyptian tycoon Hisham Talaat Mustafa, who had previously had an affair with Tamim, and men who said they were acting on Talaat’s behalf.
“Suzanne told me that he had phoned her and said that if she left me and went to marry him he would pay her $50m. He then said that if she refused he would then kill her with $1m,” said Alazzawi.
On another occasion, Alazzawi alleged that Talaat had phoned him at the couple’s flat in Knightsbridge. “He said forget about this girl. I’ll kill her and kill you if you don’t give me the girl.” Later Alazzawi claimed he was telephoned by a man who said he had been sent to Britain by Talaat to shoot him.
In a statement to his lawyer, Shahrokh Mireskandari, made five months before Tamim’s murder, Alazzawi said: “The hitman explained he had been sent to this country especially to kill [me]. He said he was not on his own but part of a big team of people working on this.
“The hitman explained that the only reason he was doing this job was because he had been paid £50,000 already and would be paid more money after the shooting.” The alleged assassin said he had tipped off Alazzawi because he had decided not to carry out the murder.
According to Alazzawi, the couple reported these threats to the Metropolitan police. They provided officers with a tape recording of several of the telephone threats, including one from the alleged hitman.
Officers arranged for them to have a panic alarm installed, and told them to keep in regular touch. But otherwise, Alazzawi claimed, they failed to act decisively on the information by warning off Talaat.
“Suzanne went to see the police officer dealing with the case,” said Alazzawi. “She told her: ‘Today I’m alive, tomorrow I may be dead. Why can’t you help me?’ The officer responded by stating that Talaat was a senior government figure in Egypt.”
Tamim rose to fame after winning a talent competition in Lebanon in 1996. Her career, which included several successful albums, was later overshadowed by a troubled private life that included two divorces.
She had an affair with Talaat but moved to London after the couple went through a bitter separation. Talaat tried unsuccessfully to sue her in a Geneva court earlier this year for the return of millions of pounds worth of cash and gifts he claimed to have given her.
On July 28 she was found dead at the age of 30 at the luxury apartment she owned with Alazzawi in Dubai. She had multiple stab wounds and an 8in slash across her throat which almost decapitated her.
According to the indictment by the Egyptian public prosecutor, a former police officer, Muhsen el-Sukkari, killed Tamim after tricking her into opening the front door by posing as a representative of the building’s owners. “He then laid into her with the knife . . . cutting her main arteries and her trachea.”
Dubai investigators say that after the attack, el-Sukkari dumped the overalls and cap he had been wearing in a rubbish bin outside the building. They were found by police and tested for DNA. Police say the alleged killer’s face also appeared on security camera footage.
The indictment alleges the murder “was on the instigation of the second defendant [Talaat] in return for obtaining from him the sum of $2m for committing this crime”.
It states that Talaat “took part through incitement, agreement and assistance with the first defendant in killing the victim in revenge”.
The high-profile murder was an embarrassment for the Dubai authorities, who have been trying to clean up their country’s image to attract western businesses. The emirate has recently cracked down on tourists going topless on beaches and launched a public anti-corruption campaign.
El-Sukkari was arrested on August 6 in Egypt. Tapes of alleged phone conversations kept by el-Sukkari and seized by police led them to Talaat.
In one, a man said to be Talaat says: “The agreed amount is ready.” He tells el-Sukkari: “Tomorrow she is in London, you should act.”
In a later tape, el-Sukkari explains he missed his chance in London and “will wait to move it to Dubai”. Talaat allegedly chides him and says: “Okay, let’s finish with this.”
Prosecutors said that el- Sukkari then followed her from London to Dubai, where he bought a knife to kill her.
Talaat has denied any part in the murder and his lawyers say they will challenge the tapes.
Egyptian media reports have said that el-Sukkari worked as a security officer at the Four Seasons hotel in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, built by the Talaat Mustafa Group, which is owned by Talaat.
The company specialises in luxury hotels and beach resorts and has been a leading force in building western-style suburbs ringing Cairo. Prosecutors say that el-Sukkari confessed to his involvement soon after he was arrested and implicated Talaat in the crime.
As well as being one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, Talaat has immense political influence. He is a stalwart of the ruling National Democratic party and a member of the Shura Council, the country’s upper house of parliament. He is said to be close to President Hosni Mubarak’s son and heir apparent, Gamal.
When his name surfaced in the Egyptian media as a suspect, Talaat denied any involvement. But he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity, arrested and charged last week after the Dubai police handed over their file on the case to the authorities in Cairo. Shares in his company fell 16% on reports of the indictment.
A spokesman for Scotland Yard said allegations it had received were investigated, and no criminal offence within its jurisdiction had emerged. Alazzawi said detectives had recently taken a statement. “They told me the murder had happened abroad,” he said. “But this case began in London.”
He is distraught about his wife’s death. “I’m angry that I lost her. I was there to protect her but I was doing it all by myself. I didn’t get any help from anybody. I did my best. But for five days she went to Dubai without me and look what happened.”