London, March 26, 2008 -- Ten days after a 23-year-old Norwegian woman's body was found buried under rubble in a London basement, an inquest into her death was formally opened today.
Speaking to ABC News hours after the inquest was opened, a Scotland Yard spokesperson confirmed that police are keen to interview a Yemeni student, Farooq Abdulhak, 21, in connection with his fellow student's death.
According to her friends, who spoke with the police, Martine Vik Magnussen was last seen with Abdulhak in the early hours on Friday, March 14.
Detectives later discovered her semi-naked body on the following Sunday, buried inside the basement of a block of apartments in central London. According to police, Abdulhak lived at the address where Vik Magnussen's body was found.
In a statement released to ABC News, Scotland Yard says that "a post mortem revealed she had significant injuries to her neck," and that she was missing items of clothing and jewelry.
As for Abdulhak, detectives believe that he flew home to Yemen hours after he left London's exclusive Maddox nightclub with Vik Magnussen.
Raised in the Lap of Luxury
The son of one of Yemen's richest men — the industrialist Shaher Abdulhak — Abdulhak grew up in London, and was studying international business management at Regent's College, London, where he met Martine.
Known as the "king of sugar" in Yemen, the father founded Shaher Trading in 1963. Today, his empire, which extends throughout the Middle East and Africa, includes interests in petroleum, soft drinks, hotels, and real estate.
Like Vik Magnussen, whose father is the Norwegian billionaire, Odd Petter Magnussen, Abdulhak grew up in the lap of luxury. Together, the pair frequented expensive London hotspots such as Maddox — a popular haunt for celebrities such as Madonna, P. Diddy and Keira Knightley.
When Martine was last seen by her friends, she was believed to be wearing a pair of Christian Dior earrings, Marc Jacobs snakeskin shoes, and carrying a Marc Jacobs handbag. None of those items were found on her when police discovered the body.
Although many in the British media have reported that Abdulhak was squirreled out of the U.K. by his father, a spokesman for Shaher Abdulhak firmly denied the allegations.
In an interview with ABC News, David Wilson, a spokesman for the father, insisted that, "contrary to media speculation, Mr. Abdulhak did not fly his son out of the U.K., and he is not hiding his son away in some apartment in Yemen."
In fact, said Wilson, since March 13, Shaher has "had no contact of any kind with his son" until he met him two days ago in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, where the son is apparently staying with friends.
In the days after Vik Magnussen's death, Shaher Abdulhak issued a public statement, expressing condolences to the woman's family and insisting that he would not put up with any wrongdoing by a member of his family.
Now, Wilson says that "the Abdulhak family is very upset and concerned that Farooq has been linked to this story and to the tragic death of this young woman."
Although the inspector leading the investigation into Vik Magnussen's death told reporters today that she "would like to invite Mr. Abdulhak to come back to London so that we can discuss the events of March 13 with him," Farooq Abdulhak has yet to make a public appearance, either in the U.K. or in Yemen.
But speaking through his Yemeni lawyer, Mohammed Al Bakwli, to the British tabloid, The Daily Mail, Farooq Abdulhak denied having murdered the woman.
Al Bakwli said that his client was "not happy about being described as a criminal" and was "not an escapee." But according to The Daily Mail's reporter, he declined to say if his client was "completely innocent."
Meanwhile, Shaher Abdulhak's spokesman in London told ABC News that he "has made it clear to his son that he should cooperate with the authorities in whatever way possible, even if that means flying to the U.K."
"But," he added, "the final decision is obviously up to Farooq."
Yemen does not have an extradition agreement with the U.K., and Al Bakwli said that his client was "available" to speak to the police, if they wanted to interview him in Yemen.
Facebook Gets on the Case
In the 10 days since Vik Magnussen's body was found by police, this case has attracted much interest from the world's media and from the public, so much so that a Facebook site named "International hunt for the truth about the murder of Martine Vik Magnussen" was set up in her memory.
The Canada-based founder of the site, Issmat Al-Akhali, told ABC News that he hoped the site would encourage people "to come forward to the authorities with information that may be" useful to the case.
Furthermore, Al-Akhali said that he did not appreciate "the unpleasant implication of my home country [Yemen] in this investigation."
"I wanted the international community to know that the people of Yemen are as adamant to bring justice to Martine's family as anyone else in the U.K. or Norway," he said.
The site set up by Al-Akhali has almost 9,000 members, somewhat fitting because both Vik Magnussen and Abdulhak were friends on Facebook, although the latter deleted his account the day he left the U.K.
While Scotland Yard has yet to name any suspects in this case, all eyes have now turned toward the Abdulhak family in Yemen, to see if Farooq Abdulhak will return to London to make an official police statement about how his friend's dead body came to be in the basement of his block of apartments.
In a statement released after her death, Vik Magnussen's father paid tribute to his young daughter, describing her presence as "pure sunshine" and mourning her loss, terming it "an emptiness that will never leave us."
Sean Duffy contributed to the reporting of this story.