Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum is expected to be absent from Royal Ascot this week after last year’s revelations in a court case.
The sheikh has previously been a guest of the Queen in the royal box but is not expected to attend the meeting. Palace sources had indicated in October that he would not be invited into the royal box again.
Sheikh Mohammed, the owner of the Godolphin stable, has been a leading figure in racing for three decades but has become something of an embarrassment to the sport after a High Court judge ruled that he ordered the hacking of phones belonging to his estranged wife, Princess Haya, and her British lawyer. He was also found to have ordered the abduction of his two daughters.
Godolphin has 40 horses running at Ascot this week, including Creative Force and Naval Crown in the Platinum Jubilee stakes on Saturday.
There is uncertainty over whether the Queen will attend, and if he does it is likely to be announced by Buckingham Palace shortly before the event. She did attend Royal Ascot on day five last year but, now aged 96, she has pulled out of recent public appearances.
Ascot organisers expect 270,000 racegoers to attend across the week but have cut the capacity in some areas compared with pre-pandemic years.
The Royal Enclosure will have 1,000 fewer people permitted, while the Queen Anne and Windsor enclosures will be reduced by 4,150 and 2,000 respectively. The Royal Enclosure Gardens has been extended, however, to create more space next to the track, and an expanded Village Enclosure will be open again for the first time since 2019.
Several meetings before the pandemic involved outbreaks of anti-social behaviour, which led to Ascot organisers putting in place enhanced measures, including sniffer dogs to deter racegoers bringing drugs to the meeting. Racegoers may also be breathalysed by stewards and refused admission.
An Ascot insider told The Times: “Everyone is aware of the need to control anti-social behaviour as much as possible and we have a zero-tolerance approach to that with very visible stewarding.
“We are very hopeful that as with other race meetings since the pandemic that everyone will behave appropriately.”
No one seems to know if Sheikh Mohammed is going to attend the Cazoo Derby at Epsom. The race has certainly been good to him: he has had the Derby winner in two of the past four years. He has three runners, one of which, Nations Pride, is third-favourite. All that is certain is that if he does turn up, no one is going to stop him. And you can be equally sure that no one is going to talk about it.
This is the omerta of racing, the sport’s embarrassment, its terrible silence — because on the one hand, Mohammed is the most powerful player and the most successful owner in British Flat racing, but on the other, if you follow recent legal cases, he shouldn’t be allowed to own a single racehorse, let alone three Derby runners.
When you ask the Jockey Club whether Mohammed should be welcomed at the Derby, it defers to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). The BHA, in turn, is quite clear on this in its published Ownership Guidance Notes. These state that “the BHA must be satisfied that the applicant is suitable to be registered ”. Under this suitability guide is a section entitled “Honesty and Integrity”, the first point of which is “whether the applicant has been convicted of any criminal offence in Great Britain”.
If Mohammed did not have sovereign immunity, he probably would have been. We can say this because two years ago, the High Court in the UK found that on the balance of probabilities, he was responsible for the abduction of two of his own daughters.
No matter, the BHA also determines suitability according to whether “the applicant has been the subject of any adverse finding by a judge in any civil proceedings”. Well, how long have you got?
This has come to a head for this year’s Flat racing season because, in March, the High Court finally settled the long-running dispute between Mohammed and Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, the youngest of his six wives. Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family division, found that Mohammed had conducted a “campaign of fear, intimidation and harassment” against her and “domestic abuse” which was “conducted on a scale which is entirely outside the ordinary circumstances of cases heard in the family court”.
The details include phone-hacking and writing poetry which contained death threats. On at least two occasions, Princess Haya found a gun on her bed with the safety catch off.
The BHA could, if it chose, act on its broader interpretation of suitability because there is plenty of legal detail here. Cambridgeshire police did investigate the abduction of Princess Shamsa, one of Mohammed’s daughters, in July 2000 but hit a dead end when it was blocked from Dubai.
Princess Latifa, Shamsa’s younger sister, attempted to flee Dubai in 2018 but was seized from a boat by Indian commandos off the coast of Goa, drugged and then returned to Dubai.
A United Nations panel ruled last year that Latifa was handed over between India and Dubai in a “de facto swap” for a businessman accused of bribery in India. Does that sound like a suitable owner? If the jury is still out, the secret recordings of Latifa, made after her abduction from the boat, which were shown in a Panorama investigation last year, are quite chilling. “I am in a villa,” she says. “I am hostage. The villa has been converted into a jail. All the windows are barred. Every day I am worried about my safety and my life.” And so it goes.
On it goes with racing, too. Mohammed’s racing empire — Godolphin — earned a one-two in the 2,000 Guineas in April, the first classic of the Flat season. At this early point in the campaign Mohammed is, by some distance, leading the Owners’ Championship.
The top five in those standings make for interesting reading. In second is Shadwell Estate, which is the racing arm of Mohammed’s brother, Hamdan, who died in March last year, and in fifth Ahmed Al Maktoum, another family member.
Over four decades, the family’s dominance has been incredible. Mohammed was the top owner first in 1985, which started a winning streak where he — or Godolphin, which is the same thing — won 12 times in 15 years, the other three winners being his brother Hamdan.
Since 1985, only four people other than Mohammed and Hamdan have been champion owner, and one of those was Princess Haya. That doesn’t really count, because as another judge declared in the Mohammed divorce settlement: “The racehorses were clearly not owned by HRH [Haya]. They were simply run in her colours.”
In other words the family, led by Mohammed, have been for a long time by far the greatest investors in British racing. The extent of their investment in and ownership of Newmarket, British racing’s capital city, is considerable. They employ thousands of people.
Why the omerta around Mohammed? Because he is a foundation stone of the British racing industry, and no one wants to see what would happen if you pulled it away. Even aside from kidnappings and domestic abuse, this is an uncomfortable reality that racing needs to confront. Mohammed is 72; what happens when he is no more?
However if, as it appears, Mohammed does not pass the suitable owners’ test, British racing should not be waiting — it should be confronting this now. Yet the sum of his censure after these court cases are the noises that the Queen, who has accepted racehorses as gifts from him before, will no longer welcome him in the Royal Box at Ascot nor share the royal procession with him in her carriage.
The problem, of course, is that racing would be crippling itself if it did choose to freeze out Mohammed and Godolphin. But it goes further than that.
Last year the BHA made a statement in which “concern” was shared about the Panorama revelations. It also stated that the BHA had been in contact with the government about the situation, saying: “We cannot discuss contact with the government further and we are not going to confirm whether we are or are not taking any action.”
That was 16 months ago. When asked by The Times about Mohammed, the BHA said that the situation had not changed.
The point is that Mohammed is more than a racehorse owner — he is prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates. When the Duke of Cambridge made an official visit to Dubai in February, one of his hosts was one of Mohammed’s sons.
This, therefore, is in part a story of the establishment, and in part about the sport’s self-preservation. There are, you hope, very few people found by a civil court to have kidnapped and abused who would get to win the Derby, but, on Saturday, Sheikh Mohammed may be one of them.
It is one of those strange and heady days when you’re being driven towards New York, but the New York that you‘re being driven towards is not the one you love so much and lived in for five years, but a hamlet with a main road cutting through it like a vicar’s knife — not New York, New York, but the bucolic English one of the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire in the parish of Wildmore in the Fens. My companion at the wheel here is someone I have known for fourteen years. We met in Dubai on our way then to a war zone. Dubai will feature in this story, but it is peacetime freakery, another story for another day, which brings us together here.
We are in the middle of a discussion. It is about an abduction which took place fifty miles to the south of here, nearly twenty-two years ago, in the university town of Cambridge. The weather is unseasonably hot and my friend opens the window. All this talk of abduction grates the soul. It sparks within me such a flurry of thoughts, I want to write them all down, maybe even explore the idea of making a film about them one day. This is because at the heart of this incident is a kind of self-inflicted wound whose pain is so sharp, so deep, it possesses an ability to transform what you think about a place.
This is why the eccentricity of where we are driving through — New York in England — somehow fits with a country increasingly uncertain about what it is anymore. There is even a token yellow cab and immaculate NYPD police car to our right. The giant Uncle Sam effigy, confusing as hell, glints in the noonday sun. It is like a page from a magical realist novel. Yet the topic of our discussion is real, not fiction at all. It is the Cambridge abduction of Princess Shamsa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, a terrible and swift prohibition of a young life which took place in England when the victim was a mere 19 years old. An incident brutishly exacerbated today by the failure of Cambridgeshire police to press any charges, albeit for reasons beyond their control.
I had forgotten how much I hated this case. We drive on in limited silence to the villages of Tumby and Haltham, in what feels like a disconnected cosmos. The story is still present because it remains unresolved. Usually, family abductions relate to the illegal removal of a child from his or her parents or guardians, rarely do they entertain the possibility of the forcible action of a parent on a child, more of which later. It is as if we are left with only a giant, uncomfortable void. The proverbial horse, if you wish, has already bolted.
Talking of which, none of this is helped by the fact Princess Shamsa is the daughter of the Queen’s very good horse friend and billionaire ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Dubai is of course the second largest Emirate in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), a federation of seven Emirates presently in sustained mourning over the recent death of former UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. As well as a popular citadel of luxury shopping, however, Dubai happens also to be where approximately 250,000 foreign labourers are alleged to live in conditions described by Human Rights Watch as ‘less than humane’. I have been there eight times. I have always been met with a kind of sweeping hospitality. I still can’t get my head around it.
In some kind of sick celebrity universe, I suppose you would have to describe Princess Shamsa as the least ordinary victim of a suspected kidnapping. If something similar had not happened later to her sister Latifa, it would still be bad enough. Princess Shamsa’s father’s net worth is approximately $14 billion. He is a successful man, an inquisitive and acquisitive human being. They say he is also a poet who was first published under fictitious names such as Saleet and Nedawi. All things not being equal, he will likely be a person who gets what he wants in this world.
Not only does the Sheikh possess a love of horses, he owns the magnificent Godolphin stables, including those admired so much by the Queen which are situated in Newmarket close to Cambridge. Indeed, these serve as the base for Godolphin’s entire British operations. Her Majesty will also no doubt enjoy the Sheikh’s use of the name Godolphin. It is after the Godolphin Arabian, a stallion from the desert that became one of the three founding stallions of the so-called modern Thoroughbred. In such circles, pedigree is all. Princess Shamsa liked horses too.
A wild hare darts across the field to our left and I find myself wondering if Princess Shamsa still has a fondness for horses. Even if hidden from the world, I wonder if she is permitted to race across shimmering sands and feel the warm desert sun on her face. There are online photographs of Princess Shamsa on horseback. These are from her teens when she appears untroubled and free. I wonder if today’s Princess Shamsa can go online, or find a way to do so. Could she perhaps even be reading this?
Presumably, Princess Shamsa knows Newmarket well. The stables are close to the estate to which she was reportedly driven by four armed men — just imagine such a thing — on the night of her reported abduction. Could it also be possible that her abductors in the course of going about their business disturbed the horses? Our solid-hoofed friends can sense a thing or two when it comes to fear or untowardness.
It is good galloping terrain here in Lincolnshire. As the very English flatlands yield to yet more blue sky, my friend and I feel an antithetical chill still thinking about Princess Shamsa. It is reported that she was put on a helicopter from Newmarket, perhaps even at five o’clock in the morning. This was to somewhere in northern France from where she was transferred to a Dubai-bound private jet. As the fertile lands of Europe gave way this time to the occasionally oil-rich sands of the Middle East, what were Princess Shamsa’s thoughts? Was she sleeping?
The high life, indeed, I am thinking, as a passenger jet in the sky leaves a far less menacing trail.
These chills don’t go away, either, and that’s the problem. My friend and I feel a second one learning on my phone that she is described by a cousin as ‘cheeky and full of life and adventure’. I feel another because initially she fled from her family’s Longcross Estate in Surrey on a day just like today, unexpectedly warm and upbeat. I feel a fourth because England is a country she partly grew up in and knew very well, and which has, in all important respects, badly let her down. ‘She really loves England,’ writes sister Latifa, in a letter to Cambridgeshire police, ‘all of her fondest memories are of her time there.’
An investigation was eventually begun by Cambridgeshire police a year after the abduction. This was only after Princess Shamsa made contact somehow through an immigration lawyer. Unfortunately, Cambridgeshire police officers were then blocked from travelling to Dubai to follow this up.
This is where it all starts to get very murky. Especially if we care about justice. There were Freedom of Information requests made to the UK foreign office, now the FCDO, about why exactly the decision was made to halt the investigation. But these attempts were rejected outright, the refusals on the basis that the UK and UAE relationship could be harmed.
Institutions and relationships aside, I defy anyone today not to feel at least a shudder of pain thinking about the nervous heartbeat of a young female foreign national, apparently wanting to make a difference for women in the Arab world especially, a guest effectively not only in this country but now at the mercy of this country, being instantaneously abducted in the middle of an unsuspecting night out with friends — the lightness of her youth, in one final swoop, made eternally burdensome, dark, leaden, and eventually lost.
Yes, Princess Shamsa’s world at the time was a million miles from our own — opulent, otherwordly, lavishly appointed — but this is no reason to forget that abduction is unacceptable. Abduction, let us remind ourselves, means the taking of a person against their will. Ask the Ukrainians abducted in Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine what they think about abduction. They say it cuts irreparably deep into our sense of place in the world. It shatters everything we know and we love. I don’t know of any other high-profile missing persons whose case has been made to disappear, along with the missing person.
In 2019, the plot thickens further. A UK High Court judge formally rules that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum has abducted not only Princess Shamsa but also Princess Latifa. This is after a boat 20 miles off the coast of India in international waters is seized in 2018 with Princess Latifa on board. She is with Finnish friend Tiina Jauhiainen. Latifa, just like her sister Shamsa, is whisked straight back to Dubai, where ‘hostage’ footage is later released. ‘I don’t really know if I’m going to survive this situation,’ she says. ‘I don’t know what they’re planning to do with me.’ Even former Irish president Mary Robinson describes her role in the case of Latifa as the biggest mistake of her life after she previously describes Latifa as ‘troubled’. Mary Robinson, it should be remembered, was also a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and now openly believes Princess Latifa is being held against her will.
Because Princess Shamsa is seized in England, it falls under English Law. Because it took place in Cambridge, it remains like a gauntlet slapped down right in front of Cambridgeshire Police. Even human rights lawyer David Haigh claims to have new evidence on the case but is still getting nowhere. The last heard of this fresh attempt was in October 2021 when it was reported that arrangements were still being made to have it presented. This is the same indomitable David Haigh who himself was in contact with the United Nations working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances.
A quick look at everything written about Princess Shamsa makes for uncomfortable reading. We are reminded for example that Conservative politician Alec Shelbrooke once accused Tony Blair’s government of what he called ‘backroom deals’. An even more precise article alleges it was then foreign secretary Robin Cook — famous for his so-called ethical foreign policy — who shut down the inquiry. There is even one uncomfortable reference in the Express newspaper of Princess Shamsa having been tortured in Dubai.
Or have I got this all wrong? Could it still be the simple case of a caring father worried about a missing daughter, who finally gets to find her? The Shiekh’s only official comment on the story is to register relief at having found what he calls his vulnerable daughter.
Alas, whatever else we believe, the waves created from all this still crash heavily on the credibility of the British Establishment. I personally find it painful to contemplate that aides acting for the Sheikh made representations to the Foreign Office, and that these clearly made a difference. In a land constantly telling the rest of the world of its triumphs of justice for the rights and freedoms of its people, we really are a sham at times.
Back in London, I weigh up the practicalities of both an article and a film. I find I am less confident about the latter. The main challenge would be in telling a story of someone who is not here. I made a one-hour documentary for the BBC about a sculptor who through illness couldn’t speak. That was hard enough. Films prefer their leads in them. Yet I know Princess Shamsa’s ‘presence’ in a film could, if done well enough, be her very absence — and her resultant enigma, if you like, acting like a kind of muse. I learn that the BBC through Panorama have already made a film — others too — and I am left wondering if mine should not appeal more to the poet in the father than the cage in the child.
Out of growing frustration, I ask one or two friends why they think no charges have been brought. The consensus of opinion is that Dubai and the UAE are just too important to London for the relationship to be jeopardised. (Witness the long succession of powerful mourners from this country that have been visiting the UAE over the past few days.) One friend suggests the UAE is essential ‘strategically’ in the region. Someone else points out that we do sell an awful lot of arms to them, almost £350 million’s worth since Boris Johnson became PM.
Then why, I ask my friends, did the UAE abstain the day before in what was the first ever United Nations vote on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? ‘I thought you said they were our allies,’ I say. Later, when the UAE welcomes President Assad of Syria — Assad’s only other trips outside Syria during the war have been to Iran and Russia — a lot of people are left more than scratching their heads.
That evening at sundown, mistakenly thinking I have read just about everything on the subject of the abduction, I find for the first time one small mention by the BBC that they spoke to someone who had regular contact with Princess Shamsa in Dubai. ‘You didn’t need to be a doctor to know that [she] was tranquillised all the time,’ they say.
Unsettled now, I meet up with a BBC producer friend. He is recently out of hospital but knows the case well and he even smiles when he remembers I like to wear my heart on my sleeve in my work sometimes. By contrast, it is a bleak Soho afternoon. Avoiding the delicious artisan scones, cream cakes and cheesecake at Maison Bertaux, we sit down at our small table and drink coffee. Because of the close proximity of the other tables, and our own deliberately low voices owing to the sensitivity of our subject, it is impossible to hear each other properly. My friend leans forward and whispers loudly into my ear as a result that the best way to justify any new stab at the subject is to get a quote from someone in the police or Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) at the time. Get them to admit they were lent on, he is effectively telling me. Then you have yourself a film. A tall order, I suggest back. Sounding like an old-fashioned insurrectionary, he suggests that any such complicity must always be confronted.
Half an hour later, I hold the door open and we head back into the cold of Greek Street. ‘We owe it to the princess to keep her story alive,’ concludes my producer friend. I can’t work out if this is a commission or not but promise to send him a pitch document anyway.
Inspired by now, I track down another friend, someone I want to see anyway. Like my producer friend, I have also been ill. This, along with the pandemic, is why this friend and I have so much catching up to do. Incidentally, this man once worked for the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS). Perhaps he can guide me, I am thinking.
We arrange to meet on the top floor of Tate Modern, a recent successful location in Netflix’s ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’. Staring down at the Thames and London Millennium Footbridge, I ask out of genuine curiosity what it was like ‘back in the day’ working for Keir Starmer, the former boss of the CPS.
‘He was always on top of his brief,’ says my friend. ‘But he wasn’t what you would call a dazzler.’
Our view from the table includes a particularly sun-slapped St Paul’s Cathedral. As we continue catching up, I am thinking about the famous whispering gallery in the cathedral’s dome where two people can confide in each other while facing in opposite directions, and have their whispers return all the way back to them, full-circle, so to say. Unfortunately, it feels a bit like a whispering gallery that I have conjured up here. I say this to my friend in the naive hope that I am not being disingenuous by suddenly mentioning the case of Princess Shamsa. My lawyer friend is relaxed, even more so than I remember. He is also right and proper. He acknowledges only the strange case of Princess Diana’s butler Paul Burrell who was discovered with more than £4 million of Princess Diana’s possessions and trinkets, including images of Charles and her children in the bath. (To which, Princess Diana’s mother, as reported by Tina Brown in ‘The Palace Papers’ recently, commented: ‘I hope his balls burn.’) Anyway, my friend asks, without prejudice, if Burrell’s charges were not suddenly dropped? ‘Are you suggesting something?’ I say.
My next stop is Cambridge, where the story for Princess Shamsa so regrettably began. I meet up with my driving companion who picks me up at the station. We are pleased to see each other. On the back of what the BBC producer said, I mention that I have just been reading on the train a report by Georgia Goble in the university magazine Varsity from October 2021 on how it was alleged that the British Foreign Office ‘lent on’ Cambridgeshire Police to halt the investigation. This was to avoid what this time is called ‘diplomatic embarrassment’. (Naturally, the Foreign Office have denied having any involvement in the investigation or its outcomes.) Over and over, I have read different versions of this moment and am still getting nowhere.
Interestingly, Varsity’s article is written at the same time as the University of Cambridge called off a record donation of £400 million from the United Arab Emirates. The change of mind is to do with the UAE’s alleged use of Pegasus spyware, a revelation that comes after The Guardian’s well known Pegasus Project shows a leak of more than 50,000 telephone numbers which it believes are connected to people of interest to clients or customers of NSO Group. This is the Israeli corporation behind Pegasus, a company advised, no less, by Cherie Blair, whose husband’s government just so happens to have been responsible for the halt in Princess Shamsa’s case in the first place. These two facts are not considered related.
Importantly, though, the primary government in the Pegasus case that is accountable for selecting hundreds of UK numbers appears to be the UAE.
So not everyone can be lent on, I am thinking. This is the takeaway moral behind the £400 million being turned down. I also wonder what government thinks of standards.
My good friend and I enter the street leading to the University Arms Hotel where on August 19 almost twenty-two years ago, Princess Shamsa was staying. Here it is, right in front of us, the rebuilt elevation like a cleaned-up wound after its fire in 2013. I forget for a moment that this is not only where Princess Shamsa stayed but also where up to four of her father’s operatives had arrived.
We swing into the comparative innocence of a university car park and I cannot believe how swiftly some of these new academic buildings are being constructed, even assembled. Life moves on. Not everything is retained. The bad things in life are often edited out. If you don’t remain awake you might wake up in a world you no longer recognise.
I am here to introduce my friend to a professor at the university, and the three of us proceed with a friendly stroll past academic building after building, including a veterinary centre where we are told advancements on equine cancer detection are progressing well. ‘If your horse gets paid £50,000 a shag,’ smiles my professor friend, ’you’re going to want him fit.’ I wonder if the nearby Godolphin Stables with their capacity of up to 115 horses are in any way involved. I am also thinking about Princess Shamsa’s sister Latifa appealing directly to Cambridgeshire police to re-investigate the kidnapping of her older sister, and again how she was for a while held in solitary confinement — in what another BBC report describes as a ‘jail villa’. As the sun reflects generously on a very English stretch of reeded water, I watch a group of young students sat happily together in the sun. Today, Shamsa will be almost 40 years old, her own youth long since snatched in this very town.
Conversely, I go on to watch as a cluster of older academics move silently from one thought to another while entering the Fellows’ dining room of a prestigious Cambridge college. Even the lawn outside looks gifted. When I quietly mention the abduction of Princess Shamsa over food to those sitting around the large and erudite table, I am careful to mention it in the same breath as the refused £400 million by Cambridge University. At first, the person opposite jokes with affection that any university donation is really just money-laundering put to good use. I say that I rather admire the ethical stand taken by the university over Pegasus and the UAE, even if we do still have the problem of the case of Princess Shamsa.
At this moment, a distinguished figure to my left, enjoying a healthy but delicate vegetarian curry, acknowledges that they themselves once sat on such committees and enjoyed doing the right thing. This, too, is strangely gratifying, reminding me that principles really are like second nature to some.
Everyone seems to agree that the outgoing vice-chancellor at the time — Stephen Toope — did a more than decent job in suspending the £400 million. By coincidence, even Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s recent divorce from Princess Haya of Jordan was in part because of Pegasus revelations, The Guardian saying that the phones of Princess Latifa and Princess Haya, who fled to the UK in 2019, both appeared in the data.
After dessert, our conversation shifts to militancy among the young, and it is agreed — for some reason in the context of South Africa — that the young today accept the status quo far more readily than their predecessors ever did. I happen to say I discovered this very point myself in Johannesburg when meeting members of the ANC there — humbling, elderly men, imprisoned with Mandela.
Are we experiencing something similar here, I am allowed to wonder? My friend drives me back to the station. Why else is there is no protest among the students that we drive past in the street over the abduction? Is it left only to older academics these days to fight such battles? Or is it now felt that it is the important matters of race and our relationship with the past that needs addressing first?
At least human rights lawyer David Haigh is still trying to keep it real. Importantly, he is not critical of Cambridgeshire police at all. ‘A brazen offence has been committed on a British street,’ he has recorded in one statement: ‘It’s astonishing that this case hasn’t been solved after more than 20 years, but credit to the police for not giving up. They can rely on us for all the help and evidence we can give to bring the kidnappers to British justice.’
Retired DCI David Beck from the Cambridgeshire police told the Sunday Mirror recently that he has no idea why he was prevented from investigating the case, but did mention ‘significant sensitivities’.
Despite Mary Robinson’s registered regret, the UN Human Rights Council on February 18 this year tweets an image of Princess Latifa in Paris next to new UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet. Unfortunately, the timing is thrown into doubt by the presence of Christmas lights in the background, with some sceptics even suggesting it is a publicity ploy to help the Dubai and UAE Expo still taking place at the time.
I am afraid to say the Anglo-UAE relationship suffers yet another pounding last week with news that French authorities are opening a case against Interpol President Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi of the UAE over what seems to be worrying accusations of torture against British citizens Matthew Hedges and Ali Issa Ahmad, detained when Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi was a senior security official in the UAE.
Today, the writer of this piece sends genuine condolences to the people of the Emirates over last week’s death of their long-unwell ruler Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Offering his own condolences, MI6 Chief Richard Moore tweets that he is visiting the UAE for what he calls ‘discussions with our excellent Emirati strategic partners and friends’ and I can’t help but wonder if Princess Shamsa features in the conversation. It is certainly true that with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ) formally elected now as the new president of the UAE, there is a great opportunity for some kind of a serious reboot and, indeed, fresh chapter. His presidency grants him power over all seven Emirates, including Dubai.
Whatever the truth about Princess Shamsa, whatever the truth about Anglo-UAE relations, it is an uncomfortable irony that the only person of innocence involved in the abduction remains the only person being held. I do hope that by the time I next go to New York, whichever New York it is, Princess Shamsa is ‘free’. The media has been achingly quiet since October 2021. No cameras, not even mine, are presently whirring. There are other subjects in the big bad world out there also crying for attention. Even with Covid attempting at long last to exit the world stage, it is the existential despair of Ukraine dominating much of the world news. Afghanistan for example doesn’t even get a look-in.
As for the still unresolved case of Princess Shamsa, England’s lost princess, the painter Wyndham Lewis, a man with a dodgy enough reputation of his own, once said that the English pride themselves in never praising themselves. Well, it saddens me to say, there is little to praise here anyway.
The controversial tool has become a must-have for autocratic regimes as well as many democratic governments, making its Israeli developer, NSO, millions. But have its powers gone too far, asks Anshel Pfeffer
It is the must-have eavesdropping system for the world’s autocrats — as well as many democratic governments. Last week it was reported that some officials at No 10 and the Foreign Office had had their smartphones “infected” with Pegasus, a powerful Israeli-developed cybertool. Not only does it give spies access to all data on the phone but also, by hacking its camera and microphone, turns it into a watching and listening device.
President Emmanuel Macron and Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon, have been previous targets. In the latest case, according to the Canadian research centre Citizen Lab, UK government officials had been targeted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), possibly linked to the divorce proceedings between Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, and Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, who has found sanctuary with her children in Britain. The sheikh has been found in a High Court ruling to have used Pegasus to track his ex-wife and her British lawyers.
Pegasus was not developed by the Israeli NSO Group to help spouses in divorce cases. It is marketed as a key tool in fighting terrorists and organised crime and counts the FBI and Germany’s federal police as customers. It is credited with helping the Mexican authorities to capture the drug baron El Chapo and has allowed Isis operatives to be arrested before they carried out attacks in Europe. One Palestinian would-be terrorist said in his interrogation that “the Israelis knew what I was dreaming of before I even dreamt it”. But uses have been more sinister, such as Saudi Arabia’s tracking of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi before his gruesome murder in Istanbul.
How has this controversial tool become such big business?
Pegasus is not your average hack or phishing scam. It makes “zero-click” attacks: phone users don’t need to click on a dodgy link to get infected. It targets system vulnerabilities unknown to the developers — known as “exploits” or “zero-days” — and leaves no trace. Zero-days are hard to find — and can be sold for large sums.
“There’s a black market in zero-days, which are found and then sold by criminal syndicates,” says an expert in a western government who has spent ten years monitoring the cyberindustry.
“Someone who is willing to pay a lot of money, and we’re talking in some cases about millions to hack a single smartphone, can usually find on the dark web an anonymous hacker who can do it. But a government which doesn’t want to work through criminals and wants to have a tool like this at its constant disposal doesn’t have many places to go.” Which is where NSO, a firm founded near Tel Aviv in 2010, comes in.
“There are two types of zero-click systems,” says a former Israeli intelligence official. “The most sophisticated ones are developed by the electronic intelligence services of major countries, like the NSA[National Security Agency] in America and Britain’s GCHQ. You’ll never hear about them as they’re top secret and jealously guarded and will never be sold or distributed to other countries.
“Then there’s hacks which are developed by large crime syndicates in Russia or China, with the unofficial blessing of the regimes there. Those are the two types of developers who have the massive resources you need for employing big teams of hackers who are constantly looking for vulnerabilities. And then you have NSO.”
NSO is ostensibly a non-governmental, private software company operating under Israeli law. It is majority-owned by Novalpina Capital, a London-based private equity fund that has Cherie Blair, the former prime minister’s wife, on its advisory ethics committee. But it is no ordinary private company. NSO develops surveillance software used by Israeli intelligence and its ties to Israel’s government and security establishment are the secret of its success. The hundreds of researchers working at NSO learnt their trade as soldiers and officers in Israel’s military intelligence apparatus.
NSO’s main profits come from exports — which are controlled by the Israeli state. It cannot sell its flagship Pegasus system to private customers, only governments approved by Israel. The list of Pegasus clients ends up looking like a map of Israel’s foreign policy interests. It includes countries in Latin America such as Mexico and Panama, which in recent years relinquished their pro-Palestinian voting patterns at the UN. Then there are the populist governments of Poland and Hungary, which have become Israel’s most strident defenders in the European Union.
Over the past decade Pegasus has also helped Israel build an anti-Iran coalition in the Middle East. The UAE, which used Pegasus against dissidents at home and, reportedly, the British government, has become Israel’s closest ally in the region along with Bahrain and Morocco. The latter is reported to have used Pegasus to target Macron.
Saudi Arabia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel but is a key member of the anti-Iran alliance. Binyamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister, personally authorised the sale of Pegasus to the Saudis.
“When Netanyahu wanted to seal an agreement with another world leader, he would often offer them access to Pegasus to seal the deal,” says one senior Israeli diplomat.
But there is a fightback. Citizen Lab, based at the University of Toronto, has developed software that can detect Pegasus on infected smartphones, and together with a consortium of newspapers has published reports of the system’s misuse, including the No 10 attack and the targeting of Catalan activists, probably by the Spanish government.
NSO is being sued by Apple and Meta, the owner of Facebook, for breaching their security and in November the US commerce department put the company on its trade blacklist. Meanwhile, Novalpina is embroiled in a legal battle between shareholders for control of NSO.
Industry insiders are divided over the company’s troubles. Some Israeli tech executives accused NSO of going too far in its pursuit of profits and turning a blind eye to what its customers were doing with Pegasus. Others accuse the American administration and tech giants of hypocrisy in taking on a relatively small Israeli company that challenged their dominance.
The Israeli government’s promised investigation is yet to get off the ground.
“NSO knows too many secrets of too many governments,” said one Israeli government official last week. “Even if they force the company to break up, it will be resurrected in one way or another. There’s simply too much demand from governments for these capabilities and if they don’t buy them from NSO, there will be others offering similar services.”
The United Arab Emirates tried to “influence” Government ministers to “mislead” the British public about important international affairs, a sacked embassy bodyguard claims.
Conservative politicians including Ben Wallace and Gavin Williamson, the current and former defence secretaries, Leo Docherty, the military veterans minister, and Alistair Burt, the former minister for the Middle East, were named as alleged targets of the Gulf state in legal court papers seen by the Telegraph.
Lee Hurford, a close protection officer to the former ambassador, Sulaiman Almazroui, at the London embassy, has also claimed the UAE “paid” a company to “monitor” Jeremy Corbyn, the then leader of the opposition.
He also alleges the Gulf state attempted to “discredit” Al Jazeera, the 24-hour Middle East news channel, and to “undermine” the Free Princess Latifa Campaign, a group trying to help the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE prime minister, who fled from her family but was seized and brought back to Dubai four years ago.
The bodyguard’s allegations form part of a defence bundle lawyers prepared after he was accused of conspiring to blackmail the former ambassador.
While Hurford, a former Royal Marine, admitted stealing confidential documents and money from the embassy in 2018, he denied plotting to blackmail the ambassador.
The blackmail trial was dropped and the charge ordered to lie on file at a court hearing this month.
But the claims in Hurford’s defence statement have emerged just days after the UAE was accused of being behind spyware infecting phones at Downing Street and the Foreign Office in 2020 and 2021.
Citizen Lab, a research unit at the University of Toronto, contacted the British Government to warn that it had detected “multiple suspected instances of Pegasus spyware infections” at the departments. Pegasus is an Israeli surveillance software that can be secretly embedded on phones to access data, the camera and microphone.
Last year, a British judge found Sheikh Mohammed ordered Pegasus to be used to hack the phones of his ex-wife, Princess Haya, and her British legal team, during their bitter divorce. The sheikh, who is also the ruler of Dubai, has always denied the hacking allegations.
Hurford’s legal bundle says that while a close protection officer until 2018 he “overheard conversations in meetings and saw correspondence” that gave him “a number of concerns regarding the conduct of the UAE”.
The documents claim: “The UAE government was seeking to influence British politicians including Ben Wallace, Leo Docherty, Gavin Williamson and Alistair Burt (among others) in a way which the defendant feared might result in the British public being misled about important international issues.
“A company … was being paid to monitor the Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Crobyn.”
They further allege the UAE was trying to “undermine the Free Princess Latifa Campaign” and that he had been “instructed to monitor” protests by the group outside the embassy.
Hurford also claims he overheard how there were “efforts to discredit the work of Al Jazeera”, as well as attempts to “suppress” news relating to a West London mosque the UAE had funded.
While the defence bundle does not outline what proof, if any, Hurford, 49, had about how the UAE may have wanted to influence British ministers or what issues they may have hoped to raise, he planned to tell the court what he had heard and read if called to the witness stand.
Mr Hurford last night could not be contacted for comment. The UAE declined to comment.
Hurford is due to be sentenced for the theft at the embassy in June at Southwark Crown Court.
Dubai’s ruler has been denied legal responsibility for two of his children who live in fear of abduction in Britain because of his “remorseless and unremitting” domestic abuse.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 72, a member of the Queen’s racing circle, was condemned by a senior British judge for his behaviour towards the youngest of his six wives, Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein.
Haya, 47, fled to London in 2019 in fear of her life with their children — Jalila, now 14, and Zayed, ten — after her husband learnt that she was having an affair with her British bodyguard. Mohammed was ordered last year to pay her a record £554 million settlement.
The princess, a sister of Abdullah II of Jordan, told the family division of the High Court in London that she was still living in fear of the sheikh. “Intimidation and harassment of me continues across both the children and financial proceedings; it is waged across a number of different forums; all of it is designed to undermine me, and ultimately crush me,” she said.
“I continue to be utterly terrified by the power that Sheikh Mohammed wields, the risks he (and those around him) continue to pose and the pressure that he seeks to place upon me. He is using everything in his armoury to grind me down, and the reach of his power is immense.”
Lord Pannick QC, representing the sheikh, said that Mohammed should receive credit for an expert report which found that “both children are loved by the father” and that he did not now insist on their return to Dubai.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division, found in a welfare judgment: “The father has acted, in a wide manner of ways, over a period of years, in a wholly coercive and controlling manner towards the children’s mother to a degree which can only be seen by her to be all consuming and all encompassing.”
He said that Mohammed maintained a “campaign of fear, intimidation and harassment” against Haya which included hacking her mobile telephone, trying to secretly buy an estate neighbouring her Surrey mansion and writing poetry which contained death threats.
“His Highness’ behaviour towards the mother, in each of its separate manifestations, whether by threats, poems, co-ordinating press reports, covertly arranging to purchase property immediately overlooking hers, phone-hacking or in the conduct of this litigation, has been abusive to a high, indeed exorbitant, degree,” added the judge.
McFarlane has previously ruled that two of Mohammed’s daughters by another wife had been abducted on his orders. Princess Shamsa, now 40, was abducted from a Cambridge hotel in 2000, while Princess Latifa, now 36, was abducted from a yacht while fleeing Dubai in 2018.
He said that Jalila and Zayed were now living in “highly restricted circumstances” because of the abduction risk.
The judge added: “Although conducted on a scale which is entirely outside the ordinary circumstances of cases heard in the family court in this jurisdiction, the father’s behaviour towards the mother of his children is ‘domestic abuse’.”
Because of the sheikh’s “remorseless and unremitting behaviour” for almost three years Haya “simply cannot contemplate any prospect of sharing parental responsibility”, he said. McFarlane gave Haya sole responsibility for decisions on the children’s health and education.
McFarlane highlighted Mohammed’s “infrequency and brevity of contact” with his children and the “full on and multi-layered litigation” he had waged in the case. He said that the sheikh was “the father of two fine children” and “the time for building bridges is not over”.
In a public statement after the ruling, Haya described her family’s “frightening journey”.
She said: “The last few years have been a frightening journey and yet the sanctuary, protection and extraordinary compassion we have experienced in England have strengthened our belief in the enduring power of both humanity and justice.”
She also praised the court and Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service: “They have given us hope for a future of dignity, free as possible from fear — not a day will go by in my life that I do not feel gratitude for every freedom my children and I have and every moment we are given together. I have been deeply humbled, through this long and intense experience of British justice, to see with utter clarity the values and foundations that built this wonderful country.”
Haya also expressed “deep gratitude” to her brother, King Abdullah II, and said that her children “will always honour their roots” in both Jordan and Dubai. “As my father, His Majesty King Hussein Bin Talal, would have wished, we will continue to honour our family’s proud tradition of peace, bringing people together and building bridges in the Middle East and to the West.”
Welfare judgments are normally anonymised before being published but McFarlane ordered that almost all details be made public amid fears that Mohammed is trying to manipulate public opinion. The manipulation included those close to the sheikh publishing photographs on Instagram of Mohammed appearing to falsely show him having face-to-face contact with his son.
Despite a series of damning court findings against Mohammed — who is also prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates — there appears to have been no impact on relations with the UK. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made an official visit to Dubai last month. Mohammed is Britain’s biggest owner of racehorses through his celebrated Godolphin stable in Newmarket, Suffolk.
Mohammed’s spokesman said: “He loves his children and cherishes their love for him. He has always cared and provided for them, and always will. He maintains his denial of the allegations made in these contentious proceedings.”
STARTING IN 2016, the men who run the United Arab Emirates went all-in on positivity. They installed a giant smiley face on the dome crowning a Dubai police station. They created a Ministry of Tolerance and a Ministry of Happiness, as if inspired by George Orwell. And they began funding research, bankrolling prominent global intellectuals to study the psychology and science of bliss.
For women living a second-class existence, activists sentenced to years in prison because of their Facebook posts, and LGBTQ+ people jailed after kissing in public, the UAE is of course not a happy place, and the branding effort might have flopped if not for the efforts of one man: renowned Columbia University economist and United Nations power broker Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs helped the UAE take its message to the world. He supercharged the happiness drive, giving speech after speech linking it to pressing global issues. He called Emirati leaders “exemplary” and “wise.” At one point, he even sat on a Dubai stage with two other white male economists and CNN anchor Richard Quest and helped lead a crowd of Emiratis and expats in a round of “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands.”
A nonprofit led by Sachs, the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, known as SDSN, has received at least $3 million from the UAE. The outlay has been used to fund work on the World Happiness Report, an annual ranking of countries’ quality of life, and on the Global Happiness Policy Report, a collection of cheery policy recommendations that accompanies the rankings. The UAE government has separately donated $200,000 to Columbia University for happiness research, according to Sachs, who provided The Intercept with the Columbia and SDSN donation figures in response to questions about their finances. Spending records from the Earth Institute, a research institute at Columbia formerly headed by Sachs, confirm that it hasreceived UAE funding, but a spokesperson for the university declined to say how much.
The happiness project might be easy to dismiss if it didn’t confer legitimacy on a repressive government. Sachs has presented on SDSN’s happiness index everywhere from Google to “Morning Joe,” and within the U.N., where he has advised three successive secretary-generals, he has tethered the happiness work to official sustainability targets. A federation of seven states where political parties are banned, the UAE often finishes ahead of some European countries in the index — results that are touted on the UAE government’s website and in the local press.
“It’s whitewashing,” scholar Matthew Hedges said of Sachs’s work. In 2018, while conducting research for a dissertation on the UAE’s security strategy, Hedges was detained by Emirati police. In his telling, he spent seven months in a windowless room, sedated with a cocktail of drugs, hearing screams through the walls. His captors repeatedly interrogated him, at one point for 15 hours on end. After being forced to sign a confession saying that he worked for MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service, Hedges was convicted without a lawyer present and sentenced to life in prison; he was released only after the U.K. applied diplomatic pressure. “The second you start taking money from authoritarian states to illustrate happiness indexes, dystopian doesn’t even begin to describe it,” said Hedges, who is now a postgraduate scholar at the University of Exeter. “It’s more like a nightmare.”
A frequent television commentator and prolific writer who once traveled sub-Saharan Africa with Bono to advocate for poor people, Sachs is one of the world’s most famous economists. After a controversial early career as a neoliberal reformer, he remade himself as a progressive, publishing searing and accessible critiques of the U.S. government that have made him a frequent guest on cable news shows. During the 2016 presidential election, Sachs endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders, conferring legitimacy on his campaign at a time when other experts wrote him off. Sanders wrote the foreword to one of Sachs’s books. Pope Francis appointed Sachs to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Angelina Jolie made a documentary about him.
Sachs, now 67, is one of 17 celebrity U.N. Sustainable Development Goals advocates tasked by the secretary-general with promoting lofty objectives like boosting access to education, fighting the climate crisis, and ending hunger by 2030. Beyond the U.N., Sachs has been anointed an expert on a dizzying array of topics, including broadband access, energy engineering, and Covid-19. He heads a Lancet commission charged with addressing the economic and humanitarian costs of the coronavirus pandemic and, until recently, with investigating its origins.
But Sachs has another side. In 2013, he praised Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan for winning three consecutive general elections, “each time with a greater share of the popular vote,” without noting growing concerns about his repression of dissent.More recently, Sachs has downplayed concerns about China’s crackdown in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, including at a Chinese government onlineeventhosted at a “guesthouse featuring traditional Uyghur-style decorations.” And in 2020, 16 months after the dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, he flew to Riyadh to speak at a forum hosted by a Saudi investment firm.
In some cases, Sachs has long-standing relationships with the leaders he praises. SDSN has affiliated centers in the UAE and China, and the nonprofit’s leadership council includes officials from both countries, among them the vice chair of the China Development Research Foundation, which reports to China’s State Council. Sachs also holds an advisory position at Beijing’s Tsinghua University that does not appear on his CV, his public LinkedIn profile, or his bios published outside China. The position is at an institute set up to promote China’s foreign policy goals within the U.N.
“I always had the sense that Jeffrey was not a person concerned about human rights and that he was often an apologist for abusive governments,” said Aryeh Neier, former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union and co-founder of Human Rights Watch. Neier oversaw the funding of Sachs’s work in the 2000s while serving as president of Open Society Foundations, during which he said he was bothered by Sachs’s willingness to work with Ethiopia’s government, among other concerns.
Sachs takes issue with such claims. He called the UAE’s financial support a “contribution to the UN effort to promote the worldwide use of happiness and well-being indicators and goals in national development policy design.” He later wrote: “If you believe that it is inappropriate for SDSN to accept funds from the Government of the UAE for academic work or for me to speak about energy decarbonization to a meeting in Saudi Arabia, then you are free to write that, though I disagree.” (Sachs declined to be interviewed by phone for this article, instead responding to a series of questions by email.)
“I speak and write very often about the importance of human rights and of the importance of the Universal Declaration and the work of the UN Human Rights Council,” he wrote, referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document adopted in 1948 that enshrines values such as nondiscrimination and freedom from arbitrary detention. He said that he was not paid for his Tsinghua position and that SDSN had not received any donations from the Chinese government, Chinese corporations, or individuals with close ties to the government. (The group received only $30,000 from “an international non-governmental organization based in Beijing devoted to decarbonization” to fund research assistants, he said.) “If there is an oversight on my CV, I will correct it,” he said. “I am proud of my cooperation with colleagues at Tsinghua University, which is a great university.” In general, he added, his work in China is driven by a desire for global peace and collaboration.
But human rights activists complain that Sachs mainly speaks about U.S. abuses, while minimizing those elsewhere in the world. SDSN has offices in New York, Paris, and Kuala Lumpur, and outposts or networks on six continents, and Sachs himself constantly appears at events across the globe. At the U.N., he has been caught up in an effort led by China to prioritize softer rights over political and civil rights.
In June 2020, as people across the United States took to the streets to protest the murder of George Floyd, he posted an eloquent letter to SDSN’s website. “I thank you, colleagues, for your daily efforts for global justice,” he wrote. “This work never stops, and it is obviously more urgent than ever.” Three days later, the UAE government reported that Sachs had joined leaders for the virtual launch of the Wellbeing Academy, an institute that trains UAE government employees on how to integrate happiness into their work. Acquaintances and former colleagues of Sachs said that he is driven by a genuine desire to do good in the world. But they also say that the former neoliberal economist never quite lost his taste for power.
Dr. Shock and Mr. Development
Sachs has been in the public eye for decades, continually reinventing himself while showing a Teflon-like resistance to reputational damage. In the 1980s and 1990s, as a young Harvard University economist who had spent his career inside the ivory tower, he advised countries including Bolivia, Poland, and Russia to adopt a strategy known as shock therapy. These extreme market reforms helped plunge some countries deeper into collapse, later earning him the nickname “Dr. Shock.” Then in 2002, Columbia recruited him from Harvard with a plush package that included an $8 million town house on 85th Street in Manhattan. (The university bought the house but rented three of its five floors to Sachs and his family at what a spokesperson called a “normal faculty rate.”)
As the director of Columbia’s Earth Institute, Sachs shifted his attention to Africa, securing hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for an effort intended to jumpstart development across the continent. The Millennium Villages project had a noble goal: to improve health outcomes and basic living standards in impoverished areas. But Sachs had little experience in the region, and his approach of pouring money into communities and then cutting the purse strings so that they could become self-sufficient struck some critics as blunt and potentially harmful.
When George Soros pledged $50 million for the Millennium Villages project through his Open Society Foundations, he sparked an uproar within the organization. Neier, the former president, was among those who opposed the decision. “The countries included some which had authoritarian regimes,” he said. “I didn’t like to see scarce resources spent in those countries.” But according to Neier, Soros had promised Sachs the money and wanted to make good on his pledge. “I lost that debate.”
Some people who worked with Sachs on the ground admired his pluck and headstrong determination to end poverty. Rebbie Harawa was hired to head the Malawi Millennium Village, a role she held until 2009. She said that Sachs had a convincing manner with government officials and other influential people. At one point, Madonna visited the village. But Sachs was overly optimistic that he could replace aid dependency in countries like Malawi with investment, said Harawa, who is now with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Kenya. “That was his dream,” she said. “But that’s not the way the world works.”
Sachs was often in the limelight, and others noted signs that to achieve his goals, he seemed willing to take funding from just about anyone. As the Millennium Villages project got underway, the writer Nina Munk tailed him on his travels, recording scenes that she eventually turned into the book “The Idealist.” At one point, Sachs urged a district commissioner in Kenya to dream big about his region’s potential. “What’s the chance of getting investors from the United Arab Emirates?” he asked the Kenyan official. At another moment, Sachs named the Chinese government and corporate donations as potential sources of funding for his development work. “The amounts required are very small,” he told Munk. “So if it ends up coming through companies, if it ends up coming through China, if it ends up coming through individual contributions … that is not really the main point. The main point is that it happens.”
Sachs told The Intercept that the Millennium Villages project did not receive funding from either the UAE or China. But it did not escape his notice that as Western nations declined to invest in his villages, China was funding desperately needed infrastructure throughout Africa. And the view he staked out during that period — that in decisions about accepting money for his projects, the end justifies the means — would follow him into his work elsewhere in the world.
After the Millennium Villages project petered out in the early 2010s, Sachs emerged as a strong progressive voice in the United States. He spoke and wrote extensively about rising inequality and the plight of migrants, and he ran for the presidency of the World Bank as a dark-horse candidate. He even showed up at the Occupy Wall Street protests, to the annoyance of activists who remembered his neoliberal past.
Sachs saw that discontent with capitalism was running high and that there was a growing recognition that traditional economic markers alone were insufficient. He became a proponent of one solution being floated at the time: measuring happiness. At first, he focused on Bhutan. The small country in the Himalayas was promoting the idea of “gross national happiness,” first proposed by Bhutan’s king in the 1970s, to reinvent itself as an idyllic paradise. In 2011, its delegates advocated for the U.N. to adopt Resolution 65/309, which proposed that member states look into measuring happiness alongside metrics of economic performance like gross domestic product. Soon after, Sachs flew to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, to co-chair a meeting on positivity. Bhutanese collaborations with Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and the Earth Institute ensued, as did a paean by Sachs to the Bhutanese government. In the spring of 2012, Sachs spoke at a Bhutan-led U.N. “high-level meeting” on well-being, and soon afterward the U.N. General Assembly declared March 20 the International Day of Happiness. (Sachs was hardly the only prominent intellectual to embrace the idea of measuring contentment. His Columbia colleague Joseph Stiglitz also spoke at the U.N. meeting. Stiglitz, through his assistant, declined to speak with The Intercept.)
But a happiness metric also turned out to be a brilliant marketing tool. A Bhutanese government minister boasted in a World Economic Forum publication that between 2012 and 2019, the number of tourists visiting the country tripled. The campaign also helped drown out concerns about the Bhutanese government’s discrimination against the Lhotshampa ethnic group. Gross national happiness was, New Delhi-based journalist Vishal Arora wrote in 2014, “a cover for an inadequate human rights record.” Bhutan’s example would be replicated by the UAE.
“You Become Complicit”
In early 2018, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler fled the UAE on a Jet Ski, aided by her Finnish capoeira coach and a former French spook. In a harrowing video, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum accused her father of locking up her sister years earlier and restricting her own basic freedoms. The episode ended in a dramatic confrontation in international waters, in which Indian commandos stormed the yacht where Latifa was hiding, captured her, and handed her over to Emirati authorities. Her Finnish friend, Tiina Jauhiainen, was detained for three weeks before being released.
For many, the incident was a wake-up call to repression in the country. But Sachs had been taking money from Sheikha Latifa’s father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, to research the very thing the princess had so desperately wanted to attain, and he continued to do so. Most of the UAE money for Sachs’s happiness work came from Sheikh Mohammed’s office and was donated to SDSN between 2017 and 2021, Sachs told The Intercept. The nonprofit names “the Prime Minister’s Office of the United Arab Emirates” as a donor on its website, along with over two dozen others. (Although electoral freedom is limited in the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed technically holds the title of prime minister.) After Sheikha Latifa’s capture, SDSN accepted at least $1 million from Sheikh Mohammed’s office.
In 2019, Sheikh Mohammed was again accused of mistreatment when one of his wives, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, fled to the U.K. with their two children, seeking political asylum.
Sachs does not draw a salary from SDSN, according to its tax forms, but the nonprofit has helped fund his research at Columbia, according to Earth Institute spending records and the tax filings. When asked whether he had ever raised concerns about Sheikha Latifa’s treatment, he did not reply.
Jauhiainen, who lived in Dubai for 17 years before helping Sheikha Latifa escape, finds Sachs’s involvement in the happiness drive deeply troubling. “The UAE is a police state where all your moves are monitored,” she said. “You’re scared to criticize anything in your social media because you’re scared of the consequences. How can people possibly be happy living in a society like that?”
Sachs formed SDSN in the wake of the U.N.’s 2012 summit in Rio de Janeiro, where member states discussed what would become the Sustainable Development Goals. The nonprofit’s launch was announced in a press release from then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who explained that the new network would help “business, civil society, UN agencies and other international organizations to identify and share the best pathways to achieve sustainable development.” But although it uses the U.N. name, SDSN is registered as a nonprofit in Delaware, and practically speaking, it is Sachs’s baby. Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, told The Intercept that “the UN and SDSN collaborate on a range of projects and knowledge products,” but said that the nonprofit “has no formal legal relationship with the United Nations.” For a while, SDSN’s administrative work was done at Columbia’s Earth Institute.
The U.N. goals the nonprofit was set up to promote are broad and somewhat open to interpretation, leaving a lot of leeway for SDSN in its work. Although aimed at reducing poverty and injustice, the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, avoid addressing the sort of serious structural changes that would actually reduce inequality and improve living conditions in developing countries, according to a recent report by Philip Alston, U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and co-chair of New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. The goals also do not require commitments to specific civil and political rights, making them attractive to authoritarian regimes.
For Emirati leaders, who have been seeking to expand the UAE’s influence globally, sustainability and happiness offer a way in at the U.N. “By creating international partnerships with respected global institutions like Columbia and with individuals like Jeffrey Sachs, they’re trying to bring prestige but also establish for the UAE an international profile,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
Tax forms for 2017 and 2018 filed with the New York State Attorney General suggest that in those years, the UAE was SDSN’s second largest government donor, behind the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. The Intercept was not able to obtain government donor lists for later years.
The Emirates Competitiveness Council, a government group, has separately funded research at the Earth Institute since at least 2013. Sachs stepped down as the institute’s director in 2016 to lead a smaller organization under its umbrella, the Center for Sustainable Development.
At first, UAE donations to the Earth Institute and SDSN went toward work on a world happiness index. The rankings are calculated using data from the Gallup World Poll. Gallup asks people from around the world to answer questions about life satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 10. Sachs and colleagues then attempt to explain each country’s ranking by assessing the roles played by factors including social support, life expectancy, and perceptions of corruption, and comparing the outcome against a fictional unhappy nation called Dystopia.
But while northern European countries typically top the ranking, further down the list, governments pay no apparent cost for repression, such that some actual dystopias end up doing just fine. In the most recent report, Saudi Arabia ranked ahead of Spain, Bahrain ahead of Japan.
The UAE typically finishes high as well. In one comparison from the most recent report, the country ranked at 19 out of 95 countries in overall happiness for the 2017-2019 period. For 2020, the UAE slid to 27 in the same assessment, but Sachs and his co-authors took care to explain that this was due to a drop in life satisfaction among the Emirates’ migrant workers and foreign population, who make up 88 percent of residents. The report added that “life evaluations of the locally-born increased.” Sachs did not respond to a question about potential bias in the survey. An FAQ on the index says that his team merely interprets and does not determine the results, which are based on the Gallup survey scores.
One major problem with the index lies in its design: Gallup representatives conduct lengthy interviews with people over the phone or in their homes. But they face limitations on how and where they can collect data; in China, the survey excludes residents of Tibet and, until 2020, excluded residents of Xinjiang, where there is widespread discontent with government repression. Also until 2020, Gallup’s UAE survey was only conducted in English and Arabic, leaving out South Asian migrant workers who might not be able to answer in those languages. In other places where speech is monitored or restricted, people might not always tell the truth about how happy they are.
Gallup itself has ties to the UAE that raise questions. From 2010 to 2012, the polling company had a center in Abu Dhabi funded by the Crown Prince Court. A Gallup executive told Fast Company that while Gallup maintained full editorial control over projects, Emirati leaders assisted “on topic selection.” (Gallup did not respond to emailed questions.)
Researching happiness in the UAE requires a sort of moral gymnastics, said Ulrichsen: “You have to take a position that involves turning a blind eye to a lot of internal developments in the country. And to some extent, you become complicit.”
Sachs’s leadership of the Global Happiness Council, the group that devises policy recommendations to accompany the annual happiness rankings, brought him still closer to the Emirati government. The UAE announced the council’s formation at U.N. headquarters in New York on the International Day of Happiness in 2017. In an interview at the event, the UAE’s then-happiness minister, Ohood bint Khalfan Al Roumi, linked the effort to the SDGs. Fully $1 million of Sheikh Mohammed’s donations to SDSN have been earmarked for the council, Sachs told The Intercept.
The council’s reports are unapologetically subjective, often praising the UAE government. At one point, the Global Happiness Council’s membership included an Emirati government official: Aisha Bin Bishr, the director general of Smart Dubai, a program that has included the installation of thousands of surveillance cameras around Dubai.
Bin Bishr was the lead author of a chapter on smart cities in the 2018 report that cited a tech-driven collaboration between Smart Dubai and local police to solicit feedback on traffic fines. The project, called HappyToPay, “not only increases transparency, but also gives people a way to voice their opinion to the city leadership,” the chapter claimed. It did not mention Smart Dubai’s expanding use of facial recognition. (Bin Bishr did not respond to The Intercept’s requests to comment.)
In the same report, Sachs wrote of the Emirati happiness drive: “It is the responsibility of scholars and moral leaders everywhere to encourage the UAE’s important initiative and help it grow.”
“The UAE’s use of surveillance technology against human rights defenders — most famously Ahmed Mansour, now in prison for exercising his right to freedom of expression — stands as a caution on its own,” said David Kaye, a law professor at University of California, Irvine and former U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression. “The idea that a government with such a nefarious approach to surveillance technology would be lauded for the surveillance cities it proposes building is just preposterous.”
Kaye said that he did not have specific knowledge about Sachs’s work on happiness and the SDGs but noted: “Any human rights organization would be cautious, to put it mildly, in taking funds from the UAE or otherwise cooperating with it. Most would refuse it on principle.”
Sachs’s relationship with the UAE may not be all that singular, though. SDSN has a center in Beijing hosted at Tsinghua University’s Institute for Sustainable Development Goals, which was founded in 2017 on the sidelines of a major Chinese Belt and Road Initiative conference. Sachs chairs the institute’s international academic committee.
China’s U.N. delegation has sought to link Belt and Road, a massive effort to finance infrastructure and extend Chinese influence across more than 130 countries of all income levels, to the SDGs. China’s broader campaign to gain influence within the U.N. has thrice landed businesspeoplein prison in the United States; all three were convicted of using sustainability-linked ventures to bribe former U.N. General Assembly presidents. (One former U.N. official was charged as well, but he died in 2016 while awaiting trial, after a barbell fell on his neck.)
In at least one instance, an SDSN center like the one in Beijing was established following donations to the nonprofit. To set up the Jeffrey Sachs Centre on Sustainable Development at Malaysia’s Sunway University, property magnate Jeffrey Cheah told the Asean Post that he endowed SDSN with $20 million over five years.
Sachs confirmed Cheah’s donation, writing that some of the money went directly to SDSN and that some went to SDG-related programs in Malaysia, but said that the Beijing center is set up differently. “SDSN is a voluntary network of organizations, mainly universities,” he said. “The universities fund themselves,” adding: “There is little transfer of money to or from member institutions.”
According to its website, the Beijing center focuses on promoting “close partnerships” with the United Nations and other international organizations. Sachs recently said in a video address to the U.N. mission in China that he is a “big fan of the Belt and Road Initiative.”
As with the UAE, Sachs’s stances on human rights issues in China have baffled experts. In April, he downplayed concerns about the Xinjiang internment camps by evoking a post-September 11 narrative about terrorism. In an op-ed titled “The Xinjiang Genocide Allegations Are Unjustified,” co-authored with the legal scholar William Schabas, he wrote that although “there are credible charges of human rights abuses … we must understand the context of the Chinese crackdown in Xinjiang, which had essentially the same motivation as America’s foray into the Middle East and Central Asia after the September 2001 attacks: to stop the terrorism of militant Islamic groups.” Schabas had represented Myanmar’s government against genocide charges in the International Court of Justice.
Sachs also recently appeared at an event hosted by No Cold War, a group that often promotes Chinese foreign policy interests, including on human rights issues. Its supporters recently clashed with Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters at an anti-racism rally in London.
“There was a saying when I was in college,” Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, said of Sachs’s involvement with No Cold War. “You want to keep an open mind, but not so much that your brain falls out.”
Sachs says that he is merely countering Beltway hawkishness. “I have been writing and speaking on China for decades,” he wrote. “My overarching view is the importance of peace and cooperation between the US and China, not the cold-war mentality that is prevalent in Washington, and that perhaps characterizes your own thinking.”
This past spring, Sachs spoke at a virtual happiness conference in conversation with Luis Gallardo, author of the book “Why Happytalism Matters for the Continued Existence of the Human Race.” Gallardo heads the World Happiness Foundation, a Florida-based nonprofit that has given awards to UAE leaders. In one breath, Sachs took easy swings at Donald Trump, who was no longer president. In the next, he complimented the Chinese government for its low Covid-19 death toll. Partway through, Gallardo asked a softball question about equity, praising Dubai leaders for their approach to happiness. Sachs took the bait. “You mentioned three places: New Zealand, Scotland, and the Emirates,” he said. “In all three, the leader of the happiness initiative is a woman.” He was referring to either the UAE’s former happiness minister, Al Roumi, or to the current minister of community development, Hessa bint Essa Buhumaid. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence.” He elaborated: “Men just seem more hard-wired for conflict, more hard-wired to find division. Women, probably, psychologically and biologically are more caring.” Happiness, he continued, “comes easier to women.”
Happiness was not coming easy for the daughter of Sachs’s primary Emirati donor. The month before, the BBC program “Panorama” had aired smuggled footage in which Sheikha Latifa said she was being held in a villa with barred windows, with no access to medical help. She also said that during her failed escape, commandos had forcibly injected her with tranquilizers before forcing her limp body onto a private jet. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights had asked the UAE government for proof that Sheikha Latifa was still alive. At the time of the happiness festival, the commissioner had not yet received it.
Images of Sheikha Latifa later surfaced, but so did evidence that her phone had been hacked with the spyware Pegasus. Last month, a British court cited her capture in a decision ordering Sheikh Mohammed to pay his ex-wife Princess Haya and her two children £554 million, or about $734 million, following their own 2019 escape.
In his riff on women at the happiness event, Sachs did not mention Sheikha Latifa or Princess Haya, or the fact that UAE law still effectively gives men control over their wives. Instead, he brought the discussion back to U.N. targets. “One thing I would recommend for all of us is more women in politics and more women in power,” he said. “And that is SDG No. 5: Gender Equality.”
A London court awarded the former wife of Dubai’s ruler a divorce settlement of more than £550 million, equivalent to more than $728 million, in a rare case that pulled back the curtain on the luxurious lifestyle of one of the world’s richest and most discreet families.
Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, a daughter of Jordan’s late King Hussein, left Dubai for the U.K. in 2019 with the two young children she had with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. She said she feared for her life after Sheikh Mohammed had previously ordered that two of his other children be forced back to the United Arab Emirates. Princess Haya later discovered that Sheikh Mohammed, who is also the prime minister of the U.A.E., had divorced her months earlier under Shariah law without her knowing.
Princess Haya, 47 years old, sued Sheikh Mohammed, 72, in the High Court in London. She was awarded a lump sum of £251.5 million, to be paid within three months, and annual payments including for the maintenance of an £87.5 million estate near Kensington Palace in West London and about £277,000 for show horses.
The court also ordered Sheikh Mohammed to fund budgets for their two children, ages 9 and 14, including for education and security. The judge said he determined the children faced the greatest security threat from their father, besides the threats of terrorism and kidnapping given their status.
The court found reasonable evidence that Sheikh Mohammed was “the probable originator” of the hacking during the proceedings of phones belonging to Princess Haya, members of her staff and at least two of her lawyers, Nicholas Manners and Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia, a sitting member of the House of Lords. The court previously found that Sheikh Mohammed had ordered and orchestrated the abduction of two of his other children, forced them to return to Dubai and detained them there.
The Dubai Media Office didn’t respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Sheikh Mohammed told the Associated Press in a statement that the leader has always ensured his children are provided for. “The court has now made its ruling on finances and he does not intend to comment further,” the statement said.
Sheikh Mohammed is a major figure in international horse racing and breeding, and has been a regular guest of Queen Elizabeth at the annual Royal Ascot horse races. He has extensive property holdings in the U.K., including several country estates, though the line is often blurred between his personal holdings and those of the city-state he inherited control of from his older brother.
Should Sheikh Mohammed decide not to adhere to the court’s ruling, lawyers for the princess will likely pursue enforcement, according to legal experts. At that point, the ruler could try to claim sovereign immunity, though dragging out the dispute could risk his international reputation, they say.
The judge awarded Princess Haya roughly £13.7 million in compensation for lost jewelry and £1 million for haute couture. The judge also ruled that Sheikh Mohammed should make a roughly £5.3 million payment on the princess’ home near Kensington Palace now, instead of in 2026, and that he should pay about £1.9 million for a kitchen extension, pizza oven and kitchen curtains in the princess’ home.
“I remind myself that money was no object during the marriage,” the judge wrote in the ruling, adding that the cost to renovate the London home “was many times that when the property was not nearly as central to the children’s lives as it is today.”
Princess Haya was “blackmailed” out of £7 million by four members of her security team whom she paid to keep quiet about an affair she had with her British bodyguard, court documents reveal.
The revelation emerged as details of Britain’s most expensive divorce between the Jordanian princess and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum were made public after The Telegraph and other media won the right to report the case.
The 72-year-old sheikh, worth nearly £10 billion, has been ordered to pay a record £554.5 million to his ex-wife, 47, for the security, maintenance and education fees for their children.
Although the princess sought no money for herself, the sheikh has had to pay for her security costs, which have soared after the courts earlier found the ruler of Dubai had probably hacked the phones of the princess, her lawyers and security team. The sheikh has repeatedly denied the allegation.
The latest judgment is meant to secure a “clean break” and bring an end to one of the most acrimonious divorces ever played out in the English courts.
‘The princess must have been very frightened’
The 65-page ruling by Mr Justice Moor reveals how the princess withdrew millions of pounds from her children’s bank accounts to meet the demands of “blackmailers”.
The threats were alleged to have taken place after she had an affair with one of them while still married to the sheikh and living in his Dubai palace.
Princess Haya became the sheikh’s second official wife after they married in April 2004. However, he divorced her in 2019 after he found out about the affair.
The judgment says she paid around £7 million “to these four security operatives”, who were named only as Mr A, B, C and D but all believed to be British. Mr B and C were paid a total of £4.5million, with Mr A receiving £1.2 million and Mr D, with whom she had the affair, allegedly also receiving £1.2 million.
Mr Justice Moor concludes: “This was clearly a most unsatisfactory episode. I realise I have not heard from the alleged blackmailers, but nobody should be blackmailed and HRH [the princess] must have been very frightened.”
During the hearings, which can be reported for the first time, the princess said she was “scared” by the blackmail threats and used her children’s accounts for “convenience”, adding she would pay it back.
“Those were the funds that I could get to make that payment quickly which were available to me,” she told the court.
The judge said: “It sticks in the throat that these people have been able to get away with this and have not been prosecuted.”
£140m and more in legal fees
The total divorce settlement comes to a record £554,168,065, £900m less than the princess had sought. It nevertheless far exceeds the £450 million awarded in 2017 to Tatiana Akhmedova, the former wife of the Russian billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov. That reward was reduced to £150 million.
Court documents also reveal how the princess and sheikh’s two-and-half-year battle has cost more than £140 million in legal fees, with the princess paying an “astronomical” £70 million, and Sheikh Mohammed likely to have paid far more.
Referring to the “opulent and unprecedented standard of living enjoyed” by the princess and her children in Dubai, Mr Justice Moor ruled that they should receive a £251,500,000 lump sum payment, along with an education fund of £3.04 million. The rest of the payments were ordered to be secured with a bank guarantee of £290 million, with an additional £9,628,065 million in arrears payments.
The settlement included nearly £21 million for chattels that she left behind in Dubai, including jewellery, horses and clothing. The sum also included nearly £2 million for a kitchen extension and pizza oven at her home “near Kensington Palace”, as well as £5 million a year to pay for holidays.
In what legal experts describe as a spectacular own goal, the judgment reveals how the sheikh must pay the princess and her children £11 million a year for security, in part because he was found to “constitute a grave risk” to her and their children.
Breakdown of record divorce settlement
The bitter and acrimonious divorce between the Jordanian princess and the ruler of Dubai has offered an astonishing insight into the lives of super-rich royalty.
The judge admitted the “opulent and unprecedented standard of living enjoyed” by the princess and her children in Dubai made his settlement appear “entirely out of the ordinary” for most people.
The ‘Clean Break’ Settlement:
£251,500,000: ongoing security for princess and their two children, to be paid in three months.
£3,040,000: children’s education fund.
£290 million: bank guarantee for children’s maintenance to cover £5,600,000 a year for each child until they complete university.
£9,628,065: Arrears payment.
The £554 million payout includes:
£10,988,228 annual security costs, including £3,149,924 for for security staff salaries and £1.5 million for replacement vehicles (including two armoured vehicles) and modifications.
£5,115,544: annual holiday budget, including £1 million for seen return flights on private jets, £667,400 for hotel accommodation, £300,000 on food, £36,000 for three helicopter return flights for weekends away.
£13,683,132: For jewellery (part of single chattels payment) .
£5 million: For horses.
£2,476,800: Annual upkeep of Kensington home, including £65,000 for food, £1 million for refurbishment, £500,000 wear and tear, £100,000 household goods, such as cleaning products and white goods, £57,600 for internet and electronic devices.
£1,009,800: Upkeep of Castlewood, the princess and her children’s country retreat.
£1,010,500: Leisure, including £250,000 for “presentations”.
£1 million: For cars.
£1 million: Haute couture clothing (part of single chattels payment).
£450,077: Children’s staffing, including nannies and nurses.
£277,050: Annual cost of animals including pets and horse care.
£275,000 to pay for children’s animals.
£1,912,254 for kitchen extension, pizza oven and curtains at princess’s Kensington home.
£280,446, for art studio at London home.
£39,000 sunken trampolines, similar to ones they had in Dubai.
£250 an hour fees for children’s tutor.
The courts had earlier found that on a balance of probabilities the sheikh, the founder of the Godolphin stables and a friend of the Queen, had attempted to kidnap his two other daughters, Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa, as well as try to buy Parkwood Estate overlooking Princess Haya’s Egham country residence
Concluding the princess and her children require “watertight security”, the judge wrote: “Most importantly, in this regard, and absolutely uniquely, the main threat they face is from HH [the sheikh] himself not from outside sources.”
He added how the sheikh “will only have himself to blame” if he has overpaid for security “given his conduct to date”.
Even the annual award of £5 million for holidays – invariably requiring private jets or private yachts – had been inflated because of the “clear and ever present risk” to the princess from numerous threats, including the sheikh and terrorists.
Following the ruling, a spokesman on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said: “He has always ensured that his children are provided for.
“The court has now made its ruling on finances and he does not intend to comment further.
“He asks that the media respect the privacy of his children and do not intrude into their lives in the UK.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the billionaire ruler of Dubai, must pay about £554m in child maintenance and security costs to his estranged wife Princess Haya and their two children, in what is believed to be the largest post-divorce financial settlement awarded by an English court.
Mr Justice Moor said on Tuesday the Dubai ruler must pay a lump sum of £251.5m in three months, which will include the cost of the princess’s security for her lifetime. He must also provide a £290m HSBC bank guarantee underpinning an annual £11m maintenance payment, as well as ongoing security costs for the two children as adults, £3m to cover their education and £9.6m in maintenance arrears.
The High Court case has given a rare glimpse into the world of the Gulf elite and their staggering wealth, which the judge said in his ruling was “a truly opulent and unprecedented standard of living”.
It has also led to scrutiny and embarrassing revelations about Sheikh Mohammed, the vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates who is one of the Middle East’s highest-profile leaders.
The exact amount of the award is difficult to value because the court has ordered that the 72-year-old Sheikh Mohammed should pay annual security costs of millions of pounds for his two children, aged nine and 14, for the rest of their lives or until a further court order.
It is thought to be the biggest such financial settlement in London, which is known as the divorce capital of the world after a string of generous multimillion-pound awards for spouses.
The court’s ruling notes that the princess’s annual 2019 budget as wife of the ruler of Dubai was £72.9m and through trust structures she has a £95m home near Kensington Palace with five housekeepers and a handyman plus a £4.5m Windsor mansion.
Princess Haya, who fled Dubai for London in 2019, had sought £1.4bn from Sheikh Mohammed in London’s High Court for maintenance for their two children. She opted not to claim money in her own right as an ex-wife — except for the costs of her lifetime security plus £97m compensation claimed for personal items such as her jewellery collection of diamonds, pearls, sapphires and emeralds which she left in Dubai. She claimed the collection was worth £20m and could fill an entire courtroom. The judge awarded her £20.9m for personal possessions, including £13.6m for jewellery.
The financial settlement marks a final stage in one of the most bitter battles between the estranged couple, which led to a ruling by a High Court judge in October that said Sheikh Mohammed was prepared to use his “immense wealth, political power and international influence” against the 47-year-old princess and to allow his agents to hack her phone using NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus military-grade spyware.
The findings have tarnished the international reputation of Sheikh Mohammed, who has deep ties to the British establishment. He has been a guest of the Queen at Royal Ascot and a major player in the horseracing world through his Godolphin stables.
Princess Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, has been receiving interim maintenance and told the court that since she arrived in Britain in 2019 she has been “fast eroding her capital”, according to details contained in the ruling.
“She said that her financial position was so bad that she was fast approaching the point where she would have to sell paintings, but she did not wish to do so as the children would then see what she was doing as there would be gaps on the walls of the property,” the judge’s ruling noted.
The judgment also noted that the princess dealt with alleged blackmail claims against her by paying £6.7m to four security operatives, although the judge’s ruling makes it clear the court heard no evidence from the alleged blackmailers.
The biggest item in the maintenance award is for the cost of providing security for Princess Haya and her children. Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, previously found that Sheikh Mohammed “constitutes a grave risk” to the security of the princess and the children.
“Most importantly in this regard, and absolutely uniquely, the main threat they [children and Haya] face is from HH [His Highness] himself, not from outside sources,” the judge said in the ruling, adding this was “compounded by the full weight of the state that he has available to him”. He noted that Princess Haya had testified that she felt “hunted” by her former husband.
Sheikh Mohammed said in a position statement cited in the ruling that he had “no intention” of causing harm to Princess Haya, had no “hacked” material in his possession and “there was no surveillance undertaken with his express or implied authority”. In October, he contested the court’s hacking ruling, stating it was based on incomplete evidence.
The ruling shines a light on the family’s spending. Details of Princess Haya’s £35.64m of expenditure from December 2019 to September 2021 was shown to the court — including £397,421 spent on UK holidays in 2021 plus £77,770 on holiday security.
The family’s holiday costs at a hotel in Italy one summer were £631,000 plus £180,000 in flight costs. A further €274,000 was spent at a hotel in Greece, plus £210,000 flight costs due to the need to have a private plane. Another £55,000 a week was required for expenses, including the hire of a private yacht.
The maintenance award allots the children a £5m annual budget for seven separate holidays over nine weeks — including £1.8m for private plane flights. The judge has allowed £1m a year for leisure costs and £277,050 a year for the upkeep of the children’s animals, as well as £100,000 a year for a private tutor and £111,295 per year for a nanny.
A spokesman for Sheikh Mohammed said in a statement: “He has always ensured that his children are provided for. The court has now made its ruling on finances and he does not intend to comment further. He asks that the media respect the privacy of his children and do not intrude into their lives in the UK.”
The settlement in numbers £251.5m Lump sum to be paid in three months, which includes the cost of security over Princess Haya’s lifetime. £290m Secured by HSBC guarantee to cover annual £11m maintenance. This includes a £5m budget for the two children’s holidays, £1.8m of which is for flights on private jets. £100,000 a year was allocated for a private tutor, £111,295 for a nanny and £137,000 for a children’s nurse £35.64m Princess Haya’s expenditure between December 2019 and September 2021, according to documents shown to the court. She has been receiving £84,000 a month in interim maintenance payments. She was awarded £9.6m in maintenance arrears £95m Value of the home near Kensington Palace, which Princess Haya has through trust structures; she also has a £4.5m Windsor mansion £20.9m Awarded to Princess Haya for personal possessions, including £13.6m for jewellery
The settlement in numbers
Lump sum to be paid in three months, which includes the cost of security over Princess Haya’s lifetime.
Secured by HSBC guarantee to cover annual £11m maintenance. This includes a £5m budget for the two children’s holidays, £1.8m of which is for flights on private jets. £100,000 a year was allocated for a private tutor, £111,295 for a nanny and £137,000 for a children’s nurse
Princess Haya’s expenditure between December 2019 and September 2021, according to documents shown to the court. She has been receiving £84,000 a month in interim maintenance payments. She was awarded £9.6m in maintenance arrears
Value of the home near Kensington Palace, which Princess Haya has through trust structures; she also has a £4.5m Windsor mansion
Awarded to Princess Haya for personal possessions, including £13.6m for jewellery