Billionaire’s son admits role in student’s ‘sex accident’ death
The son of a Yemeni billionaire has admitted involvement in the death of a Norwegian student found raped and strangled in Mayfair, but will not return to the UK to face justice.
Martine Vik Magnussen, 23, was found dead in 2008 under rubble in the basement of a block of flats where her university friend, Farouk Abdulhak, was living at the time.
Police believed she had been raped and murdered, but the only suspect in the case - Mr Abdulhak - left the UK for Yemen before her body was discovered. He has never returned.
Now, more than 15 years after the killing, Mr Abdulhak has spoken for the first time about the incident and claimed to the BBC that Ms Vik Magnussen’s death was the result of a “sex accident gone wrong”.
The two were students at Regent's Business School in central London and part of the same young international social set.
Yet a post-mortem examination found that Ms Vik Magnussen died from “compression to the neck” and her body had 43 cuts and grazes that were said to be typical of an assault or struggle.
In a series of text messages exchanged with a BBC reporter investigating the case, Mr Abdulhak, who was 21 at the time of the death, wrote: “I deeply regret the unfortunate accident that happened. I regret coming [to Yemen]. Should have stayed and paid the piper.”
Asked for clarity about the circumstances of Ms Vik Magnussen’s death, Mr Abdulhak said: “It was just an accident. Nothing nefarious … Like I told you just a sex accident gone wrong.”
He went on to tell the reporter he was unable to recollect exact details of the incident because of his cocaine use that night. “No one knows because I could barely piece together what happened,” he said.
On the night in question, Ms Vik Magnussen had been celebrating her end-of-term exams with friends and left the Maddox nightclub in Mayfair with Mr Abdulhak at around 3am. At some stage, they returned to his flat in Great Portland Street.
Mr Abdulhak flew out of Britain the following day, around 24 hours before Ms Vik Magnussen’s semi-naked body was discovered.
The UK does not have an extradition treaty with Yemen.
Mr Abdulhak is the son of Shaher Abdulhak, who ran a business empire that spanned the Middle East. He was the richest man in Yemen at the time, counting Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president of Yemen, among his close friends. Shaher Abdulhak died in 2020. The former president died three years earlier.
Not prepared to return to the UK
Speaking to the BBC reporter on a phone call, Mr Abdulhak said he was not prepared to return to the UK, adding: “It's too cold there. I don't like the weather ... I don't think justice will be served.
“I find that the criminal justice system there is heavily biased. I find that they will want to make an example of me being a son of an Arab, being … a son of someone rich.”
In response to Mr Abdulhak’s comments, Ms Vik Magnussen’s father, Odd Petter Magnussen, told the BBC: “[Mr Abdulhak] tries to portray it as a mutual, sort of, accidental outcome of a sex act.
“It’s definitely been a sex act, but it has been forced on Martine, as far as I can understand from all the information I’ve gathered all through the years.”
He added that Mr Abdulhak needed to explain to police in the UK what happened to Ms Vik Magnussen, “so that my family and myself can get some peace of mind”.
The BBC also spoke to a close friend of Mustafa Norman, Mr Abdulhak’s father, who revealed that the former president of Yemen met with the student when he left the UK.
Mr Norman, a former Yemeni diplomat, said: “Ali Abdullah Saleh was sympathetic to Shaher, because they’d had a relationship for so long.
“He made sure he didn’t have to hand the boy over. He also saw Farouk after the incident. Ali Abdullah Saleh wanted to reassure him that nothing would happen to him.”
In the aftermath of Ms Vik Magnussen’s death, Scotland Yard said Mr Abdulhak was one of Britain's most wanted men. David Miliband, then foreign secretary, personally intervened, promising to do all he could to ensure the "shocking" case was resolved.
But a one-off extradition request was turned down by the Yemeni foreign minister in February 2009, prompting a diplomatic row.
The investigation will be broadcast in the documentary This World: Murder in Mayfair at 9pm on BBC Two on Tuesday. It will also be available on the BBC iPlayer.