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Ruler of Dubai and Princess Haya’s legal war - Abduction, spying and £554m payout

·7-min read
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  • Princess Haya bint Hussein
    One of King Hussein I of Jordan's daughters
  • Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
    Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
    Emir of Dubai Emirate

The Ruler of Dubai has been ordered to pay out £554 million to his ex-wife, Princess Haya bint Hussein, at the climax of a titanic two-and-a-half year battle waged in the UK High Court.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum started the legal war after the Princess fled the United Arab Emirates with their two children and sought sanctuary in London in April 2019.

Instead of securing the return of his children, the Sheikh is on the receiving end of a record-breaking High Court pay out and faced the condemnation of judges for engaging in abduction, intimidation and espionage.

The 72-year-old powerbroker in the Middle East, who counts members of the Royal Family as personal friends, orchestrated the kidnapping of two of his daughters and conducted a shadowy campaign against Princess Haya as they battled in court.

This is how the extraordinary power struggle unfolded in private hearings at London’s Royal Courts of Justice:

Princess Haya, 47, the daughter of King Hussein of Jordan, married Sheikh Mohammed in 2004 and the couple had two children together, Jalila, 14, and Zayed, 9.

The Sheikh is an all-powerful figure in the world of horse racing, with a controlling hand over the Godolphin racing group, and he shared that passion with his wife, an equestrian at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The couple worked together during their marriage on tackling extreme poverty in Jordan, and the Sheikh gave his blessing to the Princess’s support for her brother, Prince Ali, when he sought the FIFA presidency and to tackle corruption in sport.

But by early 2019, the marriage had crumbled and Sheikh Mohammed obtained a divorce under Sharia Law in February of that year. Two months later, Princess Haya took the decision to take their children to the UK.

News of the rift began to emerge in June 2019, when it was reported that Princess Haya had left the UAE with the help of a German diplomat.

In response the Sheikh, who is Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, posted a now-infamous poem on Instagram which was widely read as a veiled threat against his runaway wife. Entitled “You Lived and You Died”, the poem included the line: “You no longer have a place within me, go to who has kept you occupied.”

He continued: “Some mistakes are known as betrayal, and you have transgressed and betrayed - You traitor, you betrayed the most precious trust, you exposed your games and nature.”

The poem, now deleted from social media, ends with the words: “I do not care whether you live or die”.

Attention swung on to the High Court as the Sheikh initiated legal proceedings over the future of the two children, insisting they should be brought back to Dubai.

In response, Princess Haya asked for an order preventing forced marriage – offering a hint of the astonishing accusations that would soon be levelled against the Sheikh.

The warring couple, armed with expensively assembled armies of lawyers, fought a private battle in the High Court, at hearings that were hidden from the public but watched by a small band of UK-based news reporters. Sheikh Mohammed went all the way up to the Supreme Court to try to stop details of the court hearings from being made public, and it soon became clear why. In March 2020, Sir Andrew MacFarlane released a bombshell ruling that the Dubai Emir had conducted a sustained campaign of fear and intimidation against his ex-wife.

As the marriage unravelled, the Princess woke up to find a gun next to her on the bed, she came across a note alluding to the abduction of her children, and she described “one of the longest and most frightening days I ever remember living” when a helicopter had landed at her home with instructions to take one passenger to a notorious desert prison.

The Sheikh had obtained a divorce without her knowledge, selecting the 20th anniversary of the Princess’ father’s death to carry out the deed. Even worse for the Sheikh, Sir Andrew ruled that he had been instrumental in the abductions of his daughter Shamsa from the streets of Cambridge in 2000 and the kidnapping of her younger sister, Latifa, in 2018.

The judge found that Shamsa, now 40, was abducted and spirited out of the UK by helicopter, and “has been deprived of her liberty for much if not all of the past two decades”.

Sir Andrew said Latifa, now 36, was held “on the instructions of her father” for more than three years after a first escape attempt in 2002, and in the 2018 he said Indian special forces were used to recapture her again on a boat off the coast of Goa.

Piecing it all together, Sir Andrew found Princess Haya had been left in “a position of great fear” about the fate of her own children, “leading her to conclude that she had no option but to leave Dubai with the children as she did”.

The revelations led police to review the Shamsa incident once again, although no criminal proceedings have followed, and the Queen was reportedly set to “distance herself” from the Sheikh, once a regular racing companion for the British monarch.

Sheikh Mohammed denied all the allegations against him and publicly insisted the court process simply involved private matters around the welfare of his children.

Legal proceedings continue in more private hearings into 2021, but behind the scenes a stunning set of revelations had emerged in an already-extraordinary battle.

While High Court proceedings were ongoing last summer, Princess Haya, her legal team - including celebrity divorce lawyer Baroness Fiona Shackleton - and members of her security detail had been targeted with sophisticated phone hacking software.

Agents for the Sheikh had been able to listen to phone calls, read texts and emails, and raid passwords in an egregious breach of privacy. Cherie Blair QC, the wife of Tony Blair, tipped off Baroness Shackleton to the invasion, sparking a full-scale investigation.

The Sheikh – who denied involvement – had access to the Pegasus spying program through his role as a national leader, and Sir Andrew delivered his damning verdict in October.

“The father, who is the Head of Government of the UAE, is prepared to use the arm of the State to achieve what he regards as right”, he said.

“He has harassed and intimidated the mother both before her departure to England and since. He is prepared to countenance those acting on his behalf doing so unlawfully within the UK.

“It is more probable than not that the surveillance of the six phones…was carried out by servants or agents of the father, the Emirate of Dubai or the UAE, and that the surveillance occurred with the express or implied authority of the father.”

Today’s record-breaking pay out for the Sheikh is so high – and loaded with security measures – due to his own conduct since the start of 2019, Mr Justice Moor said.

The Sheikh was also tied to an attempt to buy up land next to the Princess’ country estate in Egham in Surrey, amid fears of another abduction plot. The pay out now includes money for armoured cars, helicopter flights, bodyguards, ballistic shields, private jets, and a string of other security measures. The court battle also brought into the open Princess Haya’s affair with a British bodyguard, which is believed to have been behind the marriage breakdown.

She said she paid out £6.7 million to four security staff – including the guard with whom she had the affair – when they threatened to reveal the relationship.

The judge, in approving the mega pay out to Princess Haya and her children, accepted they are entitled to continue to live in the same luxury surroundings as they enjoyed in Dubai.

The Sheikh will pay for a new kitchen extension with accompanying pizza oven at their £95 million mansion near to Kensington Palace, he will bankroll the private jets, and lavish holidays, and pay millions in compensation to his ex-wife for her lost jewellery and haute couture clothes.

She is to receive £5 million to reignite her passion for horse racing, but this time under her own name and resources. The Sheikh looks keen to draw a line under the epic legal fight: “The court has now made its ruling on finances and he does not intend to comment further”, a spokesperson said. “He asks that the media respect the privacy of his children and do not intrude into their lives in the UK.” However the ruling will go down in UK legal history thanks to the jaw-dropping amount of money that will be paid out, and against the backdrop of a truly extraordinary court battle.

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