The ruler of Dubai has refused to co-operate with United Nations investigators who want to know whether his adult daughter, who was recaptured at sea after trying to run away, is still alive.
A panel of UN human rights experts said they were demanding “meaningful information” on the conditions in which Princess Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, 35, was being held.
“The statement issued by the Emirates authorities merely indicating that she was being ‘cared for at home’ is not sufficient at this stage,” they said, referring to a statement made after a video in which she appealed for help.
The fate of the two daughters of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, 71, the ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, has become a sensitive issue with the West. Princess Latifa’s older sister, Princess Shamsa, 39, tried to run away from the family’s estate in Surrey in 2000. She was seized in Cambridge and flown back to Dubai. Latifa first tried to run away in 2002. She made a second attempt in 2018 when she sent a video to a campaign group describing her life trapped with her sister. She was on a yacht to India but it was intercepted off Goa and she was forced to return.
A year later, she made a video that was smuggled to the BBC and screened in February. She said that she was being held in a villa in Dubai. The UN panel of 13 experts said that Latifa should be released immediately.
They called for “independent verification” of her conditions. The panel said that it had asked for help from Emirati officials but “no concrete information has been provided”.
Details have emerged about those who helped Latifa to flee in 2018. Hervé Jaubert, 65, the yacht owner, and Tiina Jauhiainen, 45, a fitness coach, were held in Dubai before being deported. Christian Elombo, 43, a French martial arts coach, ferried Latifa to the yacht.
He told French media that he was jailed in Oman and deported to Luxembourg where he was held on an Interpol “red notice” issued by the UAE.
“I was arrested like a big criminal, accused of kidnapping just because I helped Latifa,” he said.
“I chose to help Latifa because it was right. She knew what she wanted.”
Former Irish president Mary Robinson has welcomed a call by UN human rights experts for “meaningful information” on the fate of Princess Latifa of Dubai.
The UN has urged the United Arab Emirates to provide concrete proof “without delay” that Princess Latifa, a daughter of Dubai’s ruler and who is reportedly being held in detention, is alive.
Ms Robinson, a former UN high commissioner for human rights, said on Tuesday it is “heartening” to learn the issue of Latifa’s safety is now being addressed at “the appropriate level – between the United Nations and the government of the UAE”.
“I welcome the statement issued by the UN human rights experts today calling on the government of the United Arab Emirates to provide meaningful information on the fate of Sheikha Latifa Mohammed Al Maktoum, including assurances of her safety and wellbeing, without delay,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.
Princess Latifa tried to flee Dubai in 2018. In footage released by the BBC in February of this year, she said she had been drugged during her escape attempt and taken back into detention.
Mary Robinson became embroiled in the case after she attended a lunch with the princess and the princess’s family in December 2018 amid increasing international concern for Latifa’s welfare. Ms Robinson has since said her role in the controversy was her biggest mistake.
Earlier on Tuesday, the UN experts had said they are “alarmed” that no concrete information has been released by UAE authorities since the footage released in February in which Princess Latifa reported being deprived of her liberty against her will. In a BBC Panorama documentary, friends said they were concerned that communication with the princess had stopped. Following the report, the UN had made an initial request for proof of life.
“The statement issued by the Emirates authorities merely indicating that she was being ‘cared for at home’ is not sufficient at this stage,” the UN experts said on Tuesday. They asked for “independent verification of the conditions under which she is being held, and for her immediate release”.
According to information received by the UN, the princess continues to be deprived of liberty with no access to the outside world.
“Her continued incommunicado detention can have harmful physical and psychological consequences and may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” the experts said.
Following the lunch meeting in 2018 with the princess, Ms Robinson had described her as “troubled”, but she now says she was misled by the princess’s stepmother, a former friend.
In February’s BBC Panorama documentary, Ms Robinson said the former friend, Princess Haya bint Hussein, had told her Princess Latifa had quite a serious bipolar disorder. Ms Robinson said she had been told “in a way that was very convincing” that the family did not want Latifa to go through any further trauma.
Photographs of the 2018 lunch in Dubai were quickly made public, a development Ms Robinson said left her “flabbergasted”. Through secret recordings the princess told the BBC Panorama programme that she had been tricked into participating in pictures. She said she had been told she was being allowed out as a “test” to see if she could behave and she sat next to Ms Robinson, but she didn’t know who she was or of her links to the UN.
Ms Robinson told RTÉ’s The Late Late Show in February that she was naive on the situation and should have been more alert.
“I made a big mistake. I’ve made mistakes before; that’s the biggest one.”
Speaking to reporters in Dublin in July 2019, Ms Robinson said she had never been friends with the leadership of the UAE except for Princess Haya.
Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed’s sixth and youngest wife, Princess Haya, fled to London in April 2019 with their two children. His attempt to return the children to Dubai triggered a legal action in the family courts.
The sheikh has extensive business links to Ireland, owning eight farms in the Republic, including the 1,500-acre Kildangan Stud in Co Kildare. His horse breeding and racing business, Godolphin Ireland UC, received €217,018 in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments from the Department of Agriculture in the 2019 financial year.
GENEVA — United Nations human rights experts expressed alarm on Tuesday that Dubai’s government has not responded to repeated requests for proof that Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, a daughter of Dubai’s billionaire ruler, is alive and well.
“Evidence of life and assurances regarding her well-being are urgently required,” the U.N. analysts said in a statement, which comes two months after friends of Sheikha Latifa released dramatic video footage in which she said she was being held prisoner in a Dubai palace and feared for her life.
The 13 experts, including members of a panel that deals with enforced disappearances, sought to escalate international pressure on Dubai’s government by calling for Sheikha Latifa’s immediate release.
“It’s now incumbent on world leaders to support the U.N. and give their backing for her immediate release,” David Haigh, a British lawyer campaigning for Sheikha Latifah’s freedom, said in a phone interview.
The 35-year-old princess tried to escape her closely controlled life in Dubai twice, in 2002 and in 2018. On the second occasion she fled aboard a yacht, only to be snatched by Indian commandos who raided the vessel close to the coast of India and handed her over to Emirati security officers.
Sheikha Latifa has been virtually unseen in public since then, appearing once in a photo of a 2018 lunch attended by the former Irish President Mary Robinson. At the time, Ms. Robinson said she believed Sheikha Latifa was mentally troubled and receiving good care from her family, but she later told the BBC she had been “horribly tricked.”
“Every day, I’m worried about my safety in my life,” Sheikha Latifa said in her recent video, which friends said was recorded on a mobile phone and smuggled out by intermediaries. “I don’t really know if I’m going to survive this situation.”
Dubai’s prior assurances that she is being looked after by family and medical professionals are “not sufficient at this stage,” the U.N. panel said.
United Arab Emirates diplomatic missions in Geneva and London could not be reached for comment on the U.N. panel’s statement.
Concern for Sheikha Latifa’s well-being has been reinforced by accounts of harsh behavior by her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, that emerged in divorce proceedings filed in British courts by one of his wives, Princess Haya.
A judge found last year that Sheikh Mohammed had also abducted Sheikha Latifah’s sister Shamsa. The court heard she was seized on the streets of Cambridge in August 2000 after leaving an estate owned by her father, then taken by helicopter to France and then flown back to Dubai.
In a bid to step up international pressure, Mr. Haigh said the campaign will ask the British and American governments and the European Union next week to impose financial sanctions and travel bans on Sheikh Mohammed and five others he said are implicated in Sheikha Latifa’s detention. They include the Emirati security chief, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi, who the United Arab Emirates has put forward as a candidate to lead the international policing organization Interpol, Mr. Haigh said.
Sheikh Mohammed, ranked among the world’s richest men, has major holdings and investments in Britain and the United States. A passionate horse enthusiast, his investments include the racing organization Godolphin, whose horse Essential Quality is a favorite to win the Kentucky Derby on May 1.
The ruler of Dubai is treated with deference in the Irish horse-racing community. Now a friend of his daughter Latifa is demanding that they act over his treatment of his family and is attempting to enlist Mary Robinson to her cause. Kim Bielenberg reports
The last time Tiina Jauhiainen saw her close friend Princess Latifa of Dubai, she was being dragged away kicking and screaming by armed commandos from a boat off the Indian coast.
Latifa and Tiina had mounted a daring escape from the gulf state in February 2018 after the princess had her freedom heavily restricted by her father Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The princess had previously tried to escape in 2002, and has said that she was imprisoned for more than three years as a result.
Speaking from her home in London this week, Jauhiainen told Review how the pair of friends had almost got away in 2018. They drove to Oman, travelling out to a yacht by dinghy and jet ski, and then crossed the Indian Ocean.
“I got to know Latifa, because I was teaching her martial arts,” Jauhiainen says. “We started planning the escape in 2017. I didn’t feel sad about leaving Dubai, because she was going as well. She is a very kind person who puts others before herself and she is always supportive.”
Both women saw the escape bid as an adventure. But as they neared the end of the long ocean crossing, special forces from India and the UAE boarded the boat.
Latifa was grabbed, tranquillised, bundled away and flown to Dubai, where she has apparently been held captive ever since by her father.
The plight of Latifa and other women in his family has shone an unflattering light on Sheikh Mohammed, the stern billionaire who remains a powerful figure in Irish horse racing and one of Ireland’s biggest landowners.
Between the sheikh and his brother Hamdan Al Maktoum, who died last week aged 75, the family holdings amount to more than 6,000 acres spread across Kildare, Meath and Tipperary.
With his Irish base at Kildangan stud in Co Kildare, the man known as Sheikh Mo by his friends owns 4,500 acres, while Hamdan had a 1,500-acre holding.
Figures from the Department of Agriculture and other sources show that the Dubai ruler has claimed just over €1m in EU farm subsidies from his Irish land holdings over the past six years.
This would be small change to a man with six wives and up to 30 children whose family fortune has been estimated at just under €1bn. Perhaps the farm subsidies could be used to fuel his private 747 jet or his 162-metre yacht.
The large subsidies to the sheikh prompted Joe Healy, the then president of the Irish Farmers’ Association, to remark in 2019: “I doubt the sheikh has much experience on the combine or with the calving jack.”
Nobody in the close-knit world of Irish horse racing would ever show such disrespect. But perhaps it is time for the horsey set to pay closer attention to their patron.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, has described Princess Latifa’s detention in solitary confinement as a form of torture.
But in Irish racing circles, the sheikh is treated with extreme deference.
As one racing figure put it: “It’s all ‘Your Highness this’, and ‘Your Highness that’ when he’s around. He is surrounded by sycophants.”
Last year, one of the most damning verdicts on Sheikh Mohammed was delivered by the High Court in London in a family law case involving his ex-wife Princess Haya, who fled from Dubai with her daughter Al Jalila (12) and son Zayed (8) in 2019.
After hearing extensive witness statements about his family’s plight, the court found Sheikh Mohammed to have been responsible for the abduction and forced return of two of his adult daughters, Latifa (now 35) and her sister Shamsa (39). The judge found Latifa’s allegations of serious physical abuse amounting to torture to be credible.
Princess Shamsa fled the family’s British estate in Surrey in 2000 but was abducted in Cambridgeshire by agents of the sheikh and forcibly returned to Dubai, where she allegedly remains in captivity.
The judge ruled that the sheikh acted in a manner aimed at intimidating and frightening his then wife Princess Haya.
Adding another stain on his reputation was a secret video of Latifa, apparently filmed in captivity in Dubai and released by Tiina Jauhiainen and other friends in February.
In the video filmed in a villa in the middle of Dubai, the princess says: “I’m a hostage, I’m not free… I am enslaved, imprisoned in this jail, my life is not in my hands… I have been by myself in solitary confinement with no trial and no charge.”
The British Horseracing Authority expressed concern about the footage but no senior figure in Irish horse racing has stood up to deliver even the mildest rebuke to the sheikh.
He remains an honorary member of the Irish Turf Club, the organisation that regulated Irish racing until recently. The body has been largely subsumed into the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board in recent years, but continues as a private club. So far, there have been no moves to expel the sheikh.
It has not gone unnoticed that while trainer Gordon Elliott was banned from racing for a year by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board after posing for a photo on a dead horse, nobody has even commented publicly on the Latifa scandal in Irish horse-racing circles.
Jauhiainen says it is now time for people in Irish racing to take a stand. “It’s very worrying how he seems to be so powerful in Europe,” she tells Review. “It’s almost as if people are scared to express their opinions or take some action.”
She called for Sheikh Mohammed to be banned from Irish racing after the evidence about him that emerged from last year’s British High Court finding and the recently publicised videos of Princess Latifa.
Owners of thoroughbred racehorses in Ireland are regulated by Horse Racing Ireland, which receives €67m in annual funding from the taxpayer.
While the quango unreservedly condemned the notorious photo of Elliott on the horse, it declined to comment this week on the controversy surrounding Sheikh Mohammed. There was also silence from the Turf Club.
Jauhiainen said she hoped to enlist the support of former president Mary Robinson in demanding action from Irish racing authorities.
Robinson became embroiled in Latifa’s case after she flew to Dubai in December 2018 at the request of her friend, Princess Haya, for a lunch at which Latifa was present.
Nine days later, the UAE’s foreign ministry published photographs of Robinson with Latifa, which it said was proof that the princess was safe and well. The former president was in effect used as cover by an authoritarian regime holding a young woman captive.
Robinson said earlier this year she was tricked, and that she was surprised when photographs of the lunch went public.
Jauhiainen says she was upset to see the pictures at the time, but she has recently been in touch with the former president.
“She is a well-connected person and can use all her contacts so I am hoping that she is going to help us,” she says.
She says she hoped the former president would back a ban on the sheikh from racing.
Robinson stopped short of supporting a ban on Sheikh Mohammed from the sport this week. However, a spokeswoman said that she had been in contact with Jauhiainen and the Free Latifa campaign.
The spokeswoman added: “Both the campaign and herself are working on parallel tracks towards the shared aim of ensuring safety and securing freedom for Sheikha Latifa in the near future. She is committed to doing all that she can to further Latifa’s interests and is taking what she considers to be the best steps.”
Sheikh Mohammed’s Kildangan Stud has been described as a cross between the Blackrock Clinic and a luxury health farm, such is the opulence in which his horses are born and reared. He bought the estate, with its Victorian Jacobean-style mansion, in 1986 from Roderic More O’Ferrall, a descendant of the Gaelic chieftain Rory Og O’More.
The Dubai ruler used to be a more frequent visitor to Ireland. He would normally fly to Dublin on his jet for these trips, traversing the country in a helicopter and dropping into the Curragh for big events such as the Irish Derby and the 2,000 Guineas.
While he is seen as a forbidding and somewhat taciturn figure, his brother Hamdan was considered more affable. The sheikhs were considered one of the first ports of call for those connected with racing seeking charitable donations.
After one of his horses won the Irish Derby in 1995, Mohammed gave £350,000 to the Kildare St Vincent De Paul Society and there have been similar six-figure donations over the years.
The largesse won him plaudits, but close observers have noticed that in recent months opinion has quietly turned against him.
One racing figure said: “Nobody is going to say it publicly, but I detect a huge change in attitude in the last couple of months. The Princess Latifa case has resonated with people.
“People aren’t going to speak out because so many people in racing depend on him for their livelihoods, from trainers to vets to jockeys to staff working in the yard.”
Irish racing’s dependence on the potentate’s patronage was shown in the recent revamp of the Curragh, the headquarters of Irish flat racing. Sheikh Mohammed chipped in €5m towards the redevelopment, and Hamdan is believed to have donated the same amount.
But the account of the fractious break-up with Princess Haya, outlined in the British court reports, has tarnished his image.
Haya moved in horsey circles in Ireland for a time in the mid-90s, training at stables of the renowned showjumper Paul Darragh in Co Meath. The daughter of King Hussein of Jordan was seen as likeable and charming by those who met her. Although she had set up the meeting with Robinson by the spring of 2019 she said she had become concerned about her situation and the plight of Latifa and Shamsa.
She had also begun an adulterous affair with her British bodyguard. She was reported to have suffered a campaign of intimidation by Sheikh Mohammed’s agents. The British High court heard that a gun was twice placed on her pillow with the safety catch off.
A helicopter landed outside her house and the pilot said he was there to take her to a remote desert prison.
Princess Haya fled Dubai, along with her two children, telling friends she was in fear of her life.
Apart from horses, one of Sheikh Mohammed’s passions is poetry, and this enthusiasm is indulged with reams of doggerel verses, published on official websites and in books.
As the drama of the marriage split played out, he posted a poem on Instagram that seemed to be directed at Haya, You Live and Die: “You traitor, you betrayed the most precious trust, you exposed your games and nature,” he wrote. “You no longer have a place within me, go to who has kept you occupied… I do not care whether you live or die.”
Before the relationship ended, Sheikh Mohammed and Haya shared their enthusiasm for horses.
Long before they married, Haya jumped in competition at the 1996 RDS Dublin Horse Show, and her 27 faults did not dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd.
Two years later, Sheikh Mohammed came to Ireland to participate in the equestrian sport of endurance riding, where competitors ride long distance.
He won a contest riding through the Wicklow Hills around the village of Donard and donated £98,000 towards the construction of a local community hall.
But his career as an endurance rider has not escaped controversy. In 2009, he was banned from competing in endurance races for six months when a tribunal found his horse Tahhan had tested positive for a hypertension drug and the steroid stanozolol.
Doping was also a problem at one of his racing stables. One of his racing trainers, Mahmood al-Zarooni, was at the centre of one of the biggest doping scandals in history in Britain when he administered anabolic steroids to 22 horses and received an eight-year ban from racing.
The British Horseracing Authority, in a report on the affair, said the trainer had acted “autonomously and was the sole person responsible”.
The Dubai government did not respond to requests for comment on the case of Latifa and Shamsa this week. In the past, the Dubai royal court has said that Latifa was “alive, safe and in the loving care of her family”.
The story of the missing princesses is just one dark aspect of life beneath the glitz and glamour of Dubai. Human Rights Watch has highlighted the track record of the UAE authorities with enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and the ill-treatment of political dissidents.
Human rights campaigners are also highly critical of laws and practices that deem men the legal guardians of women and allow families to deprive women of their liberty.
As she builds a new life in London, Tiina Jauhiainen will not give up the campaign to secure her friend’s release of her friend.
After her capture on board the yacht as her escape with Latifa was foiled, she was herself interrogated by the Emirati authorities.
She says she was told that she could not contact her embassy and her family.
“They told me they could do anything they wanted with me — there were threats about getting the death penalty or a life sentence.”
In the three years after she was released and left Dubai, the Finnish martial arts instructor has spent most of her time trying to secure her friend’s release.
It remains to be seen if anyone in Irish horse racing will stand up and support her in putting pressure on Sheikh Mohammed to free Latifa.
The woman who helped Princess Latifa in her attempt to escape from Dubai has called on Irish horseracing authorities to ban Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum from the sport.
Princess Latifa’s friend Tiina Jauhiainen said it is time for Irish racing to take a stand on the ruler of the gulf state over his treatment of his daughter and other women in his family.
Ms Jauhiainen and Latifa mounted a daring escape bid from Dubai in February 2018, but were intercepted on a yacht as they crossed the Indian Ocean. The last time Ms Jauhiainen saw the princess, she was being dragged away kicking and screaming by armed commandos before being returned to Dubai.
In an interview with the Irish Independent, Latifa’s friend called for Sheikh Mohammed to be banned from Irish racing after a damning judgment against him in the High Court in London. A British judge found Sheikh Mohammed to have been responsible for the abduction of two of his adult daughters, Latifa (35) and her sister Shamsa (39).
Sheikh Mohammed is an honorary member of the Irish Turf Club. He is a powerful figure in horseracing as an owner and breeder of thoroughbreds, and is one of the country’s biggest landowners.
Ms Jauhiainen, a Finnish martial arts instructor, has been in contact with former President Mary Robinson in relation to calling for action from Irish racing authorities.
Mrs Robinson, who is a friend of Sheikh Mohammed’s former wife Princess Haya, became embroiled in the Latifa case when she met her in Dubai in December 2018. Horse Racing Ireland, the authority that regulates the ownership of horses, declined to comment.
EXCLUSIVE: Despite her family’s claims that she is safe and well in the UAE, campaigners have called out the Government for failing to investigate the welfare of the ‘prisoner’ royal
Chris McLaughlin, The Mirror March 21, 2021
The Tories have been accused of “turning a blind eye” to the fate of Dubai’s Princess Latifa because her father is an ally of the UK.
When Latifa released secretly recorded video messages last month claiming she was being held against her will after her abduction in 2018, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described the footage as “deeply disturbing”.
But the House of Lords heard this week the UK had made no diplomatic inquiries about her safety to her father Sheikh Mohammed, leader of Dubai, or the UN.
Latifa, 33, was trying to flee across the Arabian Sea when she was snatched by commandos.
Her capture followed the abduction of her sister Shamsa, 39, who was grabbed in Cambridge 21 years ago and flown to Dubai by private plane.
Asked by peers what the Government had done about Latifa, Lord Stephen Parkinson admitted: “The UK has no direct involvement in this case.”
Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Shas Sheehan said the UK position was “not good enough”.
And Labour peer Peter Hain asked if we were “turning a blind eye to abuse of women in Dubai because Sheikh Mohammed is a friend and ally with property here”.
The Dubai royals insist Latifa is in good health and is “being looked after by her family”.
It’s the stuff of a dark fairy story: imprisoned daughters, a runaway bride and an overbearing father. Recent headlines about the family of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum have sent shockwaves around the world – and there’s no happy ending in sight. Martin Fletcher investigates
As a child Marcus Essabri used to play with his cousin, Princess Shamsa, in the grounds of the palace where they lived with Shamsa’s mother, Houria, a wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the man who would later become the immensely wealthy and omnipotent ruler of Dubai. The children would ride horses, take photos of each other in the royal family’s Rolls-Royces and join excursions into the desert, Essabri has recalled in recent interviews. Shamsa was naughty, adventurous and somewhat spoilt, always pushing the boundaries, he says. Essabri was then sent away to boarding school in Britain, little suspecting that many years later his young playmate would trigger a sequence of dramatic events that make the present travails of Britain’s royal family look positively anodyne.
Shamsa would be kidnapped and abducted from British soil. Her younger sister, Princess Latifa, would be seized on the high seas as she sought to escape from Dubai. Both girls would be imprisoned by their father, prompting another of Sheikh Mohammed’s wives, Princess Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, to flee to London with her two children after her husband’s campaign of intimidation made her fear for her life.
As one shocking revelation has followed another, and the international outcry has grown, the United Nations has taken up the case. Britain is under pressure to reassess its relations with one of its most important strategic partners in the Middle East. The Queen has been embarrassed by her long friendship with a man who regularly gives her horses and has shared her box at Royal Ascot.
As for Dubai’s assiduously cultivated image as a global business and finance hub, a playground for western celebrities and football stars led by the benevolent monarch who has transformed a dusty desert port into a city of glittering towers and glitzy malls – well, that has been well and truly tarnished.
A handwritten letter that Shamsa, then a headstrong 18-year-old, sent to Essabri’s London home in 1999 marked the start of what might be called the Tale of the Three Princesses.
It told how Shamsa’s father had refused to let her go to university, and how she longed to escape her luxurious but suffocatingly restricted lifestyle. She was thinking of running away, she wrote. She did not want to stay and for ever regret it. “I’ve made up my mind and there’s nothing left for me to do here. I don’t know where I get this confidence from!! Just two weeks ago I wanted to kill myself!”
Ten months later Shamsa did run away. During Sheikh Mohammed’s annual summer decampment to Britain with his vast family (he has six wives and at least 25 children), she drove a black Range Rover to the edge of his heavily secured Longcross estate in Surrey and slipped through a gate onto Chobham Common’s heathland. From there she made her way to a south London hostel and approached an immigration lawyer.
Former employees of Sheikh Mohammed said he arrived by helicopter from his Newmarket racing stables the day after his daughter vanished and launched a huge search. Staff were sent out to scour the surrounding countryside, but found only the mobile phone that Shamsa had dropped on the common.
The young princess evaded her pursuers for nearly two months. She might have escaped for good had she not called a friend in Dubai several times. In a now famous video filmed secretly by Latifa before her own attempted escape 18 years later, she said she warned her sister, four years her senior, to stop phoning lest her father’s agents traced her calls, but she persisted. “She was very lonely in the UK. She had no one else to talk to.”
On August 19, 2000, after visiting a bar in Cambridge, Shamsa was seized by four armed, Arabic-speaking men, bundled into a car and driven to her father’s Newmarket stables. She was then drugged and flown at dawn to Deauville, in France, by helicopter. From there one of her father’s private jets flew her back to Dubai where she was effectively imprisoned in a palace room for the next eight years.
Latifa visited her at the end of that period. “She was in a very, very bad state,” Latifa said. “She had to be led around by the hand. She wouldn’t open her eyes – I don’t know why. People would hold her and make her eat and give her a bunch of pills to control her basically. Those pills made her like a zombie.”
Another source who saw Shamsa after her release said, “I didn’t recognise her. She was thin, like completely bones… She was not the same person she used to be.”
For Shamsa’s brazen abduction from British soil Sheikh Mohammed paid no penalty. Several months after the event Shamsa had managed to send an email to her immigration lawyer in London. It began, “I don’t have time to write in detail, I am being watched all the time so I’ll get straight to the point…” It then recounted her fate and begged the lawyer to “involve the authorities”.
When the press eventually learnt of Shamsa’s abduction Tony Blair’s government found itself in an acutely difficult position. The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is part, had long been a key ally on defence and intelligence matters and a major purchaser of British weaponry, not to mention a popular destination for British tourists.
Moreover, Sheikh Mohammed was a man of considerable consequence. He was a key ally, a friend of the Queen’s thanks to their shared love of horse racing, and one of Britain’s biggest landowners, with the 63,000-acre Inverinate estate in Scotland as well as his £75 million Surrey property and a huge racehorse business – Godolphin – based in Newmarket. He had also launched Emirates, the airline that sponsors Arsenal’s football stadium and the Old Trafford cricket ground.
Cambridgeshire Police launched an investigation into Shamsa’s abduction, but got nowhere because the Crown Prosecution Service denied it permission to interview potential witnesses in Dubai. In 2019 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office refused to say whether Sheikh Mohammed had asked for the investigation to be shut down, arguing that to divulge such information “would reduce the UK government’s ability to protect and promote UK interests through its relations with the UAE”.
As for the sheikh, 19 years after the event he told a British court that Shamsa was a young, vulnerable girl who had felt restricted by her security arrangements, and “when she was found, I remember our feeling of overwhelming relief that she was safe and had not come to any harm”.
Shamsa’s abduction might well have been forgotten had it not been for Princess Latifa, another of Houria’s four children by Sheikh Mohammed.
From birth Latifa had been raised by an aunt elsewhere in Dubai, visiting her real mother once a year. When she was ten Shamsa managed to bring her back into the family fold. She regarded Shamsa as a “mother figure” because “she really cared about me”.
Shamsa’s abortive escape and subsequent incarceration made Latifa realise how little freedom she had herself. She could go to school and to the family stables to ride, but was scarcely allowed out otherwise. So in June 2002, aged 17, she tried to escape. Being “very, very naive”, she simply went to a border crossing in Dubai where she was stopped and taken home.
There she was locked up and beaten, she recalled in her video. She was held for three years and four months, spurned even by her mother. “It was constant torture. Even when they weren’t physically beating me they were torturing me. They would switch off all the lights. I was in solitary confinement.
“There are no windows, no light, so when they switched off the lights it was pitch-black. I didn’t know when one day ended and the next began. They would make sounds to harass me and then they would come in the middle of the night to pull me out of bed and beat me.”
She received no medical help because, “They didn’t care. They wanted me dead anyway.” She was given no clean clothes. She had just a stained mattress and a thin blanket. Only in the final months was she given a toothbrush and some Tide washing powder to clean herself.
She was released in 2005. “I hated everyone. I didn’t trust anyone at all,” she said. But she slowly recovered, and in 2010 contacted Tiina Jauhiainen on Facebook. Jauhiainen, then 34, was a strikingly blonde Finn who had lived in Dubai for nine years, working in tourism and real estate. She ran a group that practised a Brazilian martial art called capoeira, and Latifa wanted to learn it.
Jauhiainen began visiting Latifa almost daily at the exclusive Zabeel Club, which is owned by Dubai’s royal family. Initially, Latifa was very reserved and avoided eye contact, Jauhiainen told The Times, but they gradually became close friends and in 2013 began skydiving together.
The skydiving was exhilarating, but it marked the limit of Latifa’s freedom. She could not travel. She could not leave her palace compound without an assigned driver and chaperone. Over time, however, her minders came to trust Jauhiainen enough that the two women could visit shopping malls or coffee shops alone.
In 2017 Latifa told Jauhiainen she wanted to escape, and that she had been in email contact with Hervé Jaubert, a former French naval officer who had escaped from Dubai in a dinghy a decade earlier after being accused of embezzlement. Jaubert owned a yacht, the Nostromo.
Jauhiainen agreed to help. “I’m always the kind of person who lives in the moment,” she says. “So when Latifa asked me I didn’t even think about it. I thought, I’ve been in Dubai so long I’m quite happy to leave, and her leaving with me was like a perfect thing to happen… I saw it as a bit of an adventure.”
Over the following months Jauhiainen met Jaubert in the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Indonesia to make plans, and bought equipment including an inflatable dinghy with outboard engine, underwater scooters and navigation devices.
One day in February 2018 she met Latifa at the Dubai Mall. Once the princess’s escort had departed they walked five minutes to Jauhiainen’s apartment. There Latifa recorded her story in a video as an insurance policy. It was sent to several western contacts so it could be released if her escape bid failed. “If you’re watching this video it’s not such a good thing. Either I’m dead or in a very, very bad situation,” she told the camera.
At 7am on February 24, 2018, she met Jauhiainen at a coffee bar. She discarded her traditional abaya and binned her mobile phone. The two women then drove to Oman, with Latifa hiding as they crossed the border. From there a friend took them by dinghy and – latterly – jet skis to Jaubert’s yacht some 16 miles offshore. The sea was rough, and they arrived in darkness, sodden and exhausted.
They set sail for Sri Lanka. On day six, as they neared the Indian coast, they noticed a vessel trailing them and a spotter plane overhead. At 10pm on day eight a dozen heavily armed Indian commandos in two speedboats stormed the US-flagged yacht, beat the crew and dragged Latifa away. “I wasn’t sure we were going to make it. It was that terrifying,” says Jauhiainen.
She last saw the princess kicking, screaming and shouting, “Shoot me here! Don’t take me back!” Her dreams of seeking political asylum in the United States, and living in Florida, were dashed.
Nine months after Latifa’s kidnapping the Dubai royal court stated that she was “alive, safe and in the loving care of her family”. Sheikh Mohammed would later say, “We feared our daughter was in the hands of a criminal who might hold her to ransom and harm her. To this day I consider that Latifa’s return to Dubai was a rescue mission.”
Princess Haya bint Hussein, 46, is Sheikh Mohammed’s sixth wife – the beautiful, Oxford-educated half-sister of Jordan’s present King Abdullah, a former Olympic equestrian and goodwill ambassador for the UN’s World Food Programme.
When Latifa’s video was released on YouTube a week after her capture in March 2018, Haya chose to believe her husband’s explanation that the princess was mentally unstable and had been abducted by people with ulterior motives.
That December, as the outcry over Latifa’s disappearance grew following a BBC documentary entitled Escape from Dubai: the Mystery of the Missing Princess, Haya even arranged for Mary Robinson, the righteous former Irish president and UN human rights commissioner, to have lunch with Latifa and to pose for photographs that would show the world that the princess was alive and – seemingly – well. To the undoubted glee of her hosts, Robinson described Latifa as a “troubled young woman” who was receiving psychiatric care.
But Haya had begun to doubt Sheikh Mohammed’s word. She started visiting Latifa in the locked and guarded house where she lived in conditions that Haya would later describe as “akin to a prison”. By that time Haya’s marriage was in trouble, not least because she was having an affair with a bodyguard. On April 15, 2019, fearing for her life, she fled to her £85 million home near London’s Kensington Palace with her 2 children – Jalila, then 11, and Zayed, 7.
Within a month Sheikh Mohammed was seeking the children’s return in the High Court’s family division. It was a bad mistake. During the subsequent hearings the ageing despot’s carefully nurtured image as an enlightened Middle Eastern leader was shattered.
Led by Baroness Shackleton, who represented Prince Charles during his divorce from Princess Diana, Haya’s legal team asserted that her husband had publicly belittled her, divorced her under sharia without telling her, and published menacing poems including one that stated, “You traitor, you have betrayed the most precious trust… I don’t care if you live or die.” They described how a helicopter had landed unexpectedly in her compound and the pilot said he was taking her to prison; how she twice found a gun lying on her bed with the safety catch off, and how she received anonymous notes saying her life was over. After her escape to London the sheikh’s agents orchestrated a vicious campaign against her in the international media.
Haya’s lawyers also invoked the kidnappings of Shamsa and Latifa to show why Sheikh Mohammed should be denied custody of her children. The sheikh declined to testify in person, and claimed in a witness statement that neither Shamsa nor Latifa wished to participate in the court case.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division, published his findings last March after the sheikh had failed to persuade the Court of Appeal to keep them secret. They were devastating. He ruled that the sheikh had indeed ordered the forcible abductions of Shamsa and Latifa, and had sought to intimidate Haya, in a manner that probably broke English and international law.
He said the sheikh “continues to maintain a regime whereby [Shamsa and Latifa] are deprived of their liberty” and concluded: “These findings, taken together, demonstrate a consistent course of conduct over two decades where, if he deems it necessary to do so, he will use the very substantial powers at his disposal to achieve his particular aims.”
Sheikh Mohammed issued a statement saying he had been unable to testify as a head of state so the judgment “inevitably tells only one side of the story”.
After Princess Latifa was seized from the yacht, Jauhiainen and Jaubert were taken back to Dubai by Emirati soldiers. There they were jailed, interrogated and denied legal representation or calls to the outside world. They were told they were in a prison “for the likes of al-Qaeda and Daesh [Isis]”, Jauhiainen says. They were asked if they were working for a foreign power. “They were telling me I would face the death penalty, and that nobody knew I was there.”
She was finally released after promising to tell nobody what had happened to her and Latifa – a promise she swiftly broke. She discovered that most of her friends in Dubai had been questioned, or forced to leave the emirate. Since then she has divided her time between London and Finland, doing odd jobs but mostly campaigning for Latifa’s freedom. In that she has been assisted by an unexpected benefactor whom she will not identify.
In March 2019, while on holiday in Finland, she received a message from someone saying they had contact with Latifa. Later Jauhiainen used that intermediary to smuggle a mobile phone to her friend. They began exchanging text messages and videos. “I was overjoyed. It was very emotional… We had so much to talk about, so many things to exchange,” Jauhiainen says. She also reunited Latifa with Essabri, her childhood friend.
Last July, Latifa’s messages abruptly stopped. Her phone had evidently been discovered.
Months passed, and after much agonising Jauhiainen, Essabri and another campaigner, a lawyer named David Haigh, decided to publish some of her messages. They realised that could mean Latifa suffering further punishment but, says Jauhiainen, “I want to believe that with the worldwide media attention they would not harm her.”
The messages, which Latifa had secretly filmed in a locked bathroom, certainly gained attention. BBC’s Panorama programme broadcast them last month. Looking thin and pale, she told how she was drugged and flown back to Dubai after being snatched from the yacht. She declared, “I’m a hostage. I’m not free. I’m enslaved. I’m imprisoned in this jail… I’m in solitary confinement, no trial, no charge, nothing.”
She was locked up in a villa that had been “converted into a jail. All the windows are barred shut… There are five policemen outside and two policewomen inside the house and I can’t even go outside to get fresh air,” she said. “Every day I’m worried about my safety and my life. I don’t really know if I’m going to survive the situation. The police threatened me that I will be in prison my whole life and I’ll never see the sun again.”
Dubai’s royal court hit back with a statement saying that Latifa was “being cared for at home, supported by her family and medical professionals”, but the broadcast could well be the tipping point. Coupled with last year’s damning High Court ruling, it may prove to be the moment that Sheikh Mohammed’s impunity ended, that the world stopped ignoring his egregious conduct.
The UN has since demanded proof that Latifa is still alive. So has the British government, which called the videos “deeply troubling”. Mary Robinson has admitted she was “horribly tricked” and “made a big mistake”. Cambridgeshire Police have revived their investigation into Shamsa’s abduction. The Queen is said to have ruled out any further photographs with the sheikh. Even the British Horseracing Authority, whose ailing industry the sheikh does so much to support, has expressed concern and sought government guidance.
Jauhiainen wants more. She wants sanctions imposed on Dubai, tourists to boycott the emirate, and the sheikh’s horses banned from racing in Britain. She wants an end to showpiece events like last year’s Global Women’s Forum in Dubai which Ivanka Trump and Theresa May addressed. Her “FreeLatifa” campaign plans to release more of Latifa’s messages to sustain the pressure.
“Things are starting to move forward,” she says. “We’re in the best position we’ve been in for the past three years.”
But, she concedes, “Ultimately it’s only Sheikh Mohammed who can release her. Ultimately it’s him who holds the key.”
Ministers have questioned why the Government failed to prosecute the ruler of Dubai over the kidnap of his daughter in Cambridge and for continuing to hold her sister hostage.
Former Labour Cabinet Minister Lord Hain questioned whether the Government was “turning a blind eye” to abuses under Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum because he is a close ally of the UK and has property here.
“Why has the ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed not been prosecuted for kidnapping his daughter Princess Shamsa from UK jurisdiction in Cambridge and continuing to hold hostage his other daughter Princess Latifa?“
Lord Hain, former Labour Cabinet Minister
Conservative frontbencher Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay responded saying this was a matter for the police.
“An investigation was conducted by Cambridgeshire Constabulary, who are operationally independent and the Government had no role in that investigation or its outcome.“
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
Cambridgeshire Police previously confirmed aspects of their 2001 investigation will be revisited, which found insufficient evidence to take any action. Although, the force insists the investigation is no longer “active”.
Dubai Sheikh Mohammed serves as prime minister and vice president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
His daughter, Princess Shamsa, now 38, was abducted from the streets of Cambridge on 19 August 2000 and has never been seen in public since. It is believed she was returned to the UAE.
Her younger sister Princess Latifa is also said to be held captive in Dubai by her father since an attempt to flee in 2018.
Princess Latifa had previously urged Cambridgeshire Police to reinvestigate the disappearance of her older sister.
Friends of the 35-year-old are concerned for her safety because she has not been heard from after she stopped responding to text messages last year.
The UN human rights office says it has asked the UAE for evidence that she is still alive.
Lord Parkinson also added:
“The UK believes that all states including the UAE need to uphold international human rights obligations. We have a close relationship with the UAE which means that we can raise issues when needed.“
A lawyer and friend of missing Princess Latifa of Dubai says former president Mary Robinson has vowed to “help in the campaign to free her” and has a “critical and key” role to play.
The captive daughter of Dubai’s ruler, who is reportedly being held hostage by her father, was previously described by Mrs Robinson as a “troubled young woman”.
The former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was forced to apologise after a photograph of her and the princess went viral in 2018 and re-emerged last month as part of a BBC Panorama broadcast.
Mrs Robinson claims she was “horribly tricked” by the family.
The documentary also showed videos that Latifa had secretly recorded on a phone that had been smuggled in for her, in which she claimed she had been held hostage by her father following a failed escape attempt.
In an interview with the BBC, Mrs Robinson said she had been misled at a lunch in 2018 into believing the princess had bipolar disorder and was traumatised by her escape attempt.
Human rights lawyer David Haigh, a friend of Latifa’s, says Mrs Robinson is “one of the few key credible and certainly qualified eyewitnesses to what effectively has now been proven to be Dubai’s abuse of Latifa’s human rights and their attempts to cover those abuses up”.
He says Mrs Robinson is “one of the very few people whose judgment as to Latifa’s situation can be trusted”.
Almost two decades earlier, an attempt by Latifa’s older sister Shamsa to flee the family also ended in capture and imprisonment. In August 2000, about two months after escaping from her father’s estate in Surrey, Shamsa was taken from Cambridge and flown back to Dubai by private jet.
In an interview with RTÉ’s Late Late Show this month, Mrs Robinson referred to having spoken to a doctor who had treated Shamsa.
“Mary Robinson’s information on Shamsa that she touched on could also be critical for any Cambridgeshire police investigation into the kidnap and her disappearance,” says Mr Haigh. “She discusses a doctor in Dubai that misled her by saying that Shamsa and Latifa suffered from bipolar.”
The Free Latifa campaign is to report Mrs Robinson’s remarks on what the doctor allegedly told her to Cambridgeshire police who have been investigating Shamsa’s disappearance. “We are sure they will be interested in any additional evidence as to the fate of Shamsa,” Mr Haigh said.
Last night, he confirmed the Free Latifa campaign was in contact with Mrs Robinson.
“Mary Robinson and ourselves are working on parallel tracks towards our shared aim of ensuring safety and securing freedom for Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum in the near future,” he said.
Tiina Jauhiainen, also a friend of Latifa’s, said the campaign “welcomes the public commitment of Mary Robinson in supporting them in releasing Princess Latifa from her illegal imprisonment”.
Princess Latifa has called for police to reinvestigate the disappearance of her sister in 2000.
FORMER PRESIDENT OF Ireland Mary Robinson has said the UN Office of the High Commissioner should “seek the release” of Dubai princess Sheikha Latifa and her sister.
Robinson, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said last month that she was “horribly tricked” over a photo taken of her with Princess Latifa, the daughter of the Dubai ruler Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum– who has said she is being held hostage by her father.
In February 2018, Princess Latifa Al Maktoum reportedly tried to flee Dubai, but her friends said that commandos stormed a boat carrying her off the coast of India.
It is claimed she was then brought back to the Emirates by her father.
Amid increasing international concern for the woman’s welfare, in December 2018 Mary Robinson attended a family lunch on invitation from Dubai’s royal family, and was photographed with the princess.
Robinson has said she made a “mistake” and was “naive” in relation to the case.
Speaking to Euronews, Robinson said it is important now to focus on seeking the release of Latifa and her sister, princess Shamsa, who has been missing since 2000.
“I think it’s actually very important now to support the Office of High Commissioner, the High Commissioner who has asked for proof of life and to actually go further with the mandates of the office and seek the release not just of Latifa, but also of her sister. That’s where the focus has to be,” she said.
In February, princess Latifa urged Cambridgeshire Police to reinvestigate the disappearance of her older sister, princess Shamsa.
Latifa said Shamsa was also captured by her father.
Shamsa, now 38, was abducted from the streets of Cambridge on August 19 2000 and has never been seen in public since. It is believed she was returned to the United Arab Emirates.
Cambridgeshire Police previously confirmed “aspects” of their 2001 investigation – which found insufficient evidence to take any action – will be revisited, although the force insisted the investigation is no longer “active”.
Last week, a UN spokesman said it is yet to see evidence from the United Arab Emirates that Dubai’s Sheikha Latifa was still alive, a fortnight after seeking proof.
The United Nations Human Rights Office had asked for evidence about the daughter of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum after the BBC broadcast a video shot by Latifa saying she was being held captive and feared for her life.
Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the organisation has spoken to the UAE’s diplomatic mission in Geneva.
“We’ve held discussions with representatives of the UAE government here in Geneva, but I don’t have any particular progress to report,” he said.