The ruler of Dubai conducted a “campaign of fear and intimidation” against his former wife, forcing her to flee to London with their two children, the UK High Court has found.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s sixth wife Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, 45, fled the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last April having become “terrified” of her husband at the beginning of last year.
The 70-year-old vice president and prime minister of the UAE, who is said to be on “respectful and friendly terms” with the British royal family, soon after applied for the summary return to Dubai of their two children, their daughter Al Jalila, 12, and son Zayed, eight.
But Princess Haya, the half-sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan, applied for the children to be made wards of court, as well as applying for a forced marriage protection order in relation to Jalila and a non-molestation order for her own protection.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Simon Cooper/PA)
She asked the High Court to make a series of findings of fact about Sheikh Mohammed, in particular in relation to the kidnap and forcible detention of two of his adult daughters from another marriage almost two decades apart.
Princess Haya also alleged that there had been a “campaign of fear and intimidation” against her since the start of last year.
In a judgment published on Thursday, Sir Andrew McFarlane, the most senior family judge in England and Wales, found Sheikh Mohammed had “ordered and orchestrated” the abduction and forced return to Dubai of Sheikha Shamsa, then 19, in August 2000 and of her sister Sheikha Latifa twice, in 2002 and again in 2018.
The judge found that Shamsa, now 38, was abducted from the streets of Cambridge and “has been deprived of her liberty for much if not all of the past two decades”.
Sir Andrew also found Latifa, 35, was held “on the instructions of her father” for more than three years after her first escape attempt in 2002 before being released in October 2005.
Latifa’s second attempted escape from the UAE made headlines around the world after the publication in March 2018 of a video which she said would only be released if “I’m dead, or I’m in a very, very, very bad situation”.
Sir Andrew found proved claims by Tiina Jauhiainen, Latifa’s friend who tried to help her escape the UAE, that Indian special forces boarded a boat in international waters off the coast of Goa on March 4 2018, before Latifa was taken back to Dubai against her will.
The judge said Ms Jauhiainen’s account of Latifa’s last words to her “say a great deal”.
He added: “She was pleading for the soldiers to kill her rather than face the prospect of going back to her family in Dubai.
“Drawing these matters together I conclude, on the balance of probability, that Latifa’s account of her motives for wishing to leave Dubai represents the truth.
“She was plainly desperate to extricate herself from her family and prepared to undertake a dangerous mission in order to do so.”
Princess Haya’s barrister, Charles Geekie QC, told the court in November of about a number of “appalling acts” perpetrated against his client, including anonymous notes being left in her bedroom, one of which read: “We will take your son – your daughter is ours – your life is over.”
The court heard that Sheikh Mohammed divorced Princess Haya – without her knowledge – on February 7 2019, the 20th anniversary of the death of her father, the late King Hussein of Jordan.
Sir Andrew said Princess Haya was “clear that the date will have been chosen by the father (Sheikh Mohammed) to maximise insult and upset to her”.
In her evidence, Princess Haya described “one of the longest and most frightening days I ever remember living” in March 2019, when a helicopter landed outside her house and a pilot told her that he had come to take one passenger “to Awir”, the site of a prison in the desert.
She also claimed that a number of poems, in particular one published in June 2019 titled “You lived and died”, expressed “deliberate threats” to her.
Sir Andrew said he agreed with Mr Geekie QC’s contention that the events between 2000 and the present day showed “a number of common themes, at the core of which is the use of the state and its apparatus to threaten, intimidate, mistreat and oppress with a total disregard for the rule of law”.
He added: “I also accept Mr Geekie’s submission that these findings, taken together, demonstrate a consistent course of conduct over two decades where, if he deems it necessary to do so, the father will use the very substantial powers at his disposal to achieve his particular aims.”
All the findings of fact, which are vehemently denied by Sheikh Mohammed, have been found to the civil standard of proof on the balance of probabilities.
In a statement issued after the judgments were published, Sheikh Mohammed said: “This case concerns highly personal and private matters relating to our children.
“The appeal was made to protect the best interests and welfare of the children. The outcome does not protect my children from media attention in the way that other children in family proceedings in the UK are protected.
“As a head of government, I was not able to participate in the court’s fact-finding process. This has resulted in the release of a ‘fact-finding’ judgment which inevitably only tells one side of the story.
“I ask that the media respect the privacy of our children and do not intrude into their lives in the UK.”
Princess Haya also alleged that Sheikh Mohammed had made arrangements for Jalila – then aged 11 – to be married to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman.
But Sir Andrew said that the hearsay evidence for that allegation fell “well short of the required standard” of proof.
In a separate judgment, Sir Andrew ruled that assurances provided to the court by Sheikh Mohammed and the state of the UAE, waiving his immunity from English court orders, had “failed to afford the children any significant level of protection from the risk of abduction within England and Wales”.
Further details of the hearings, which have been held in London since last year, can be reported for the first time after the Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch attempt by Sheikh Mohammed to prevent publication of the judgments.
It can now be reported that, in July, Princess Haya applied for a non-molestation order for her own protection, as well as a forced marriage protection order in relation to her daughter, Jalila.
Princess Haya attended almost every hearing, flanked by her solicitor Baroness Fiona Shackleton and security detail, but Sheikh Mohammed did not attend one. He attended a horse auction in Newmarket on the day of one preliminary hearing in October.
Sheikh Mohammed – whose lawyers insisted that he “could not and would not” attend to give evidence – attempted to withdraw his application for contact with his children in November, and argued it was unnecessary to conduct a fact-finding exercise.
His QC Lord Pannick told the court that, if the fact-finding went ahead, Sheikh Mohammed’s lawyers would “play no active part in these proceedings”.
But Sir Andrew refused to allow him to withdraw, after Mr Geekie told the court that it would not be right that “the father’s wish to avoid the scrutiny of the court should deployed in order to reduce the protection that is available to the children”.
Also in November, Ms Jauhiainen and DCI David Beck, who led Cambridgeshire Police’s investigation into Shamsa’s abduction, attended to give evidence to the court.
Mr Beck previously told the BBC that he applied to visit Dubai with the intention of speaking to Shamsa but that his request was rejected in 2001, adding: “I was never given a reason why.”
Mr Geekie said DCI Beck’s evidence made clear that there had been “interference” in the police inquiry, adding: “We have it directly that the Foreign Office were plainly engaged back in 2000 with a direct interest being expressed by the Foreign Secretary and we have it from Mr Beck’s statement… permission to pursue the investigation in Dubai was refused.”