The government of Dubai has broken its silence on the case of its missing princess, saying she was safely back home and accused a former French spy of her kidnap.
Sheikha Latifa, the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler, tried to escape the country in March after complaining she was effectively being held prisoner by her repressive father.
She fled across the border to Oman with the help of a friend, before boarding a boat to meet French national Hervé Jaubert, who had himself managed to successfully escape the Emirates in 2010.
The boat set sail for the Indian coast but was intercepted by three Indian and two Emirati warships - with Mr Jaubert claiming he and his crew were beaten by commandos before Latifa was whisked away.
Her social media accounts, where she liked to share pictures and videos of herself skydiving, were all shut down shortly after.
Detained in Dubai, an international civil and criminal justice organisation, published a video sent from the 33-year-old princess in the event of her capture.
"My father is the most evil person I have ever met in my life,” she says tearfully in the video. “He's pure evil. There's nothing good in him.
“If you are watching this it’s not such a good thing, either I’m dead or I’m in a very, very, very bad situation.”
She has not been seen or heard from since, sparking fears for her safety.
“Her Highness Sheikha Latifa is now safe in Dubai,” read a statement released on Thursday by Dubai’s Royal Court. “She and her family are looking forward to celebrating her birthday today (sic), in privacy and peace, and to building a happy and stable future for her.”
It went on to claim Mr Jaubert had taken her against her will and then demanded a $100million ransom for her return
Mr Jaubert could not immediately be reached for comment.
Latifa’s disappearance was the subject of BBC2 documentary Escape from Dubai, which is due to air on Thursday night, and likely put pressure on Sheikh Mohammed to respond to questions about her whereabouts.
Friends told the BBC that she spent seven years planning her escape and told them she would rather be killed than return to her family.
It also reported on the earlier abduction of Latifa’s sister Sheikha Shamsa from the streets of Cambridge, England, in 2000, when she attempted to escape before being kidnapped by UAE authorities and returned home.
Human rights groups have accused Dubai authorities of forcibly disappearing Latifa and have repeatedly demanded answers.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, said: “When the BBC2 documentary airs, Latifa will have been missing for 277 days. The UAE has refused to acknowledge their illegal attack on the vessel from which she was abducted, and completely ignored a United Nations enquiry into her enforced disappearance,” she said.
She said that while the UAE is considered by some to be a tolerant and moderate country, Sheikha Latifa’s case “seriously punctures that highly-controlled self-image.”
“Given Latifa’s grave allegations against her father, Sheikh Mohammed, and considering the fate of Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of the UAE’s ally Saudi Arabia; we are deeply worried about Latifa’s welfare,” she added.