Sheikh Mohammed, Latifa’s father, speaks with BBC News about human rights. His daughter Sheikha Latifa, has disappeared after trying to escape the country, having made serious allegations against her father for human rights violations and torture.
A former agent turned expat businessman tells how he fled when he was threatened with jail and torture
Matthew Campbell and Sara Hashash
August 23 2009, 1:00am, The Sunday Times
ONE night last summer, Hervé Jaubert, a former French secret agent, put on the flowing black robes worn by women in the Islamic world. Nobody paid him any attention as he walked down to the shore.
Underneath the disguise he wore a diving suit and a device known to military commandos as a “rebreather”. He swam underwater to a police boat riding at anchor. Climbing aboard, he disabled the engine.
It was just like the old days, when he had taken part in covert adrenaline-charged missions to former Soviet countries and the Middle East. This time he was not spying for his country. He was preparing to flee Dubai, where he was about to be thrown into jail for crimes he says he did not commit.
“The police had interrogated me for hours and threatened me with torture,” he said last week from Palm Beach, Florida, where he lives with his wife and two children. “I lived with a ball of fear in my stomach.”
He was sentenced in absen-tia earlier this year to five years in prison after his escape in a rubber dinghy. “If I hadn’t left I’d be stuck in the same nightmare as the others,” he added, referring to dozens of expatriate businessmen, including Britons, who are languishing in jail in Dubai for alleged “economic crimes”, some of them without being charged.
Jaubert, 53, who designs and builds leisure submarines, was drawn to the desert city in the United Arab Emirates by the offer of a luxurious lifestyle in one of the world’s few western-friendly Arab countries. He drove a red Lamborghini and lived rent-free in a poolside villa. Now the party is over.
As the slump deepens, foreigners are falling foul of tough insolvency laws and some have been jailed for misdeeds hardly considered criminal in their own countries, such as bouncing a cheque.
For those whose passports have been confiscated, escape is more complicated. Simon Ford, who had set up a luxury gift service, fled across the desert into Oman and from there back to Britain. In a “letter to the Dubai public” he promised to pay back his debts but said he could not face the prospect of prison.
Jaubert, a naval engineer who left the French intelligence service in 1993, had been contracted by Dubai World, a government company, to build vessels that would cater to the fashion among wealthy citizens for exploring coral reefs in private submarines.
His trouble began two years ago, just as the economy was beginning to show signs of strain. Since then property prices have plummeted, unemployment has risen and so have the arrests of expatriates in what, some suspect, is an effort to make foreigners pay for Dubai’s downturn.
Jaubert was called in for questioning by police in 2007 when an executive at Dubai World reported finding bullets in his office. Police suspected that Jaubert, a keen marksman, might be involved in a murder. Jaubert explained that although he had bullets, the rifle he had brought with him to Dubai was still being held at airport customs.
“They said they thought I was a mercenary or a hitman,” Jaubert recalled last week. “But why would I go with my wife and two young children on such a mission and declare my gun at the airport? It didn’t make any sense.”
According to Jaubert, his employers had run out of money and wanted to find a way of sacking him without paying benefits that would have been due under a five-year contract.
He was questioned twice more by police and made a recording on his mobile phone of the last interrogation, conducted by two men in white robes.
“We will insert needles into your nose again and again,” one of them is heard telling Jaubert. “Do you know how painful it is to have needles put inside your nose repeatedly and then twisted around? Do you think you can resist this kind of pain?”
At the same time, executives at Dubai World accused Jaubert of billing for goods that did not arrive. A spokesman for Dubai World said last week that Jaubert had been dismissed because “he was found stealing from the company”, adding that his five-year sentence was “entirely appropriate”.
Jaubert denied stealing anything. He sent his wife and children back to America but could not leave himself because police had confiscated his passport. He began planning an alternative escape. “I became a secret operative once more, a professional,” he said.
He began reconnoitring the coast, concluding that the best and safest way out was by sea. He imported diving equipment, including the naval rebreather, imagining that it might be useful.
After disabling the engine of a police boat so he could not be pursued, he swam back to the beach, got into a Zodiac dinghy and headed out to sea. Six hours later he was 25 miles offshore and outside Dubai’s territorial waters. Another former French agent met him in a 35ft yacht. “In this kind of job we are like brothers,” he said.
They sailed to Mumbai, in India, which took a week. He told the French consul that he had lost his passport and was given a new one.
Since then he has been concentrating on a memoir about his adventures, called Escape from Dubai. He vows never to set foot again in the emirate.
“They would probably kill me if I went back,” he said. “They’d say that I escaped and died in the desert.”
The crown prince of Dubai’s daughter, who was allegedly kidnapped by members of her father’s staff, is believed to have been staying with an Australian friend in London shortly before her alleged abduction back to her father’s palace in Dubai.
Shamsa al-Maktoum, 19, is understood to have stayed in a flat in Elephant and Castle, south London, after fleeing in July last year from the vast Surrey estate belonging to her father, billionaire racehorse owner Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum. But mystery continues to surround her current whereabouts.
Sheikh Mohammed, who is a friend of the Queen, has remained silent since the Guardian revealed last week that Cambridgeshire detectives are investigating allegations made by Shamsa that she was picked up off a street in Cambridge in late August 2000 by members of her father’s staff and flown out of the UK against her will in a small private plane.
Detectives were initially able to speak to her by telephone in Dubai several times and have been trying to establish whether events took place as she described and whether any criminal offence has been committed.
Last weekend Sheikh Mohammed made no response to the allegations when he visited Britain to watch two of his sons graduate from the military academy at Sandhurst. Media in Dubai have so far not published the allegations.
The Australian connection may shed new light on Shamsa’s movements after she left the Longcross estate in Surrey. Until now, it was unclear whether she had any friends outside the tight circle of family and staff who could have helped her.
Former members of staff at Longcross have said she dodged security guards by driving a Range Rover to a corner of the estate and slipping through an open gate at night.
They say her father flew in by helicopter from his racing stables in Newmarket after the abandoned Range Rover was discovered the following morning, to take personal charge of the search operation, which involved staff scouring the surrounding countryside in cars and on horseback. Shamsa is believed to have dropped a mobile phone as she made her way across Chobham common on foot.
The Guardian has tried several times to speak to Shamsa and her father about the police investigation, without success. The sheikh’s London lawyer, Peter Watson, said Shamsa was “in Dubai, where she lives happily with her family”.
Staff in Dubai say that she has not been seen in public since her return and has not visited the stables at her father’s Zabeel palace where she had previously ridden every day.
The Foreign Office has revealed that Sheikh Mohammed, the most high profile member of Dubai’s autocratic ruling family, tried to intervene with the British government over the ongoing police investigation, which began after Shamsa asked police for help via a British solicitor in March.
Detectives have had difficulty in getting access to members of the Maktoum staff in Newmarket, where the young woman claims she was taken before being flown out of the country.
Young woman evaded perimeter guards and video cameras to slip through open gate
It was the black Range Rover that started the panic, according to Sheikha Shamsa al-Maktoum’s friends. Abandoned near a stable block at her father’s sprawling Surrey estate, they say, its discovery one morning in mid-July last year confirmed the security staff’s worst fears: Shamsa had run away.
Shamsa’s former riding instructor and other insiders have told the Guardian how the unruly 19-year-old’s disappearance sparked chaos on the Longcross estate near Chobham in Surrey where her father, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, installed his family every summer.
To undermine the vast security operation which her father had placed around his children apparently to protect them from kidnap attempts – highly trained close protection officers, perimeter guards, video surveillance and rigorously enforced security drills – Shamsa simply drove the Range Rover to a corner of the estate, dumped it and slipped through an open gate on to Chobham Common, friends say.
It was only when the vehicle was discovered the following morning that the alarm was raised, according to Lucy Stevenson, who worked with Shamsa and her sisters for five years. By then Shamsa had disappeared.
At Longcross, a desperate search operation swung into action, former employees said. Sheikh Mohammed flew in by helicopter from his racehorsing base in Newmarket to take charge of the hunt. All staff were sent out, on horseback or in cars, to search for the runaway. According to Ms Stevenson, the search found nothing except a mobile phone, which Shamsa is believed to have dropped on the common.
The Guardian revealed this week that Cambridgeshire police are investigating allegations from a woman describing herself as Shamsa who said that she was kidnapped from a street in Cambridge in August last year by members of Sheikh Mohammed’s staff and returned to Dubai against her will. She asked police for help via a British solicitor in March, and detectives are trying to establish whether events took place as the woman describes and whether any criminal offence has been committed.
Sheikh Mohammed has declined to comment on the investigation or the circumstances of Shamsa’s disappearance, which the Guardian put to him through his London office and through his London lawyer, Peter Watson at Allen and Overy.
Ms Stevenson, who worked for Sheikh Mohammed from 1992 until 1997, says she first heard about Shamsa running away when she received a phone call from a member of Longcross staff demanding to know whether Shamsa had made contact.
Although she had left Longcross to work at her mother’s stables, Ms Stevenson had remained in touch with Sheikh Mohammed’s children, especially Shamsa. They would go shopping in London together, Shamsa would telephone her from Dubai and they would buy each other birthday presents.
She was on the second day of a holiday at her sister’s home in Norfolk when the call came through from Longcross. “I obviously said no. It was then that she told me that she had run away,” Ms Stevenson said. “She told me not to say anything, and please keep it quiet.”
Ms Stevenson was amused but unsurprised by the call; she had known Shamsa to be a headstrong young woman, fascinated by the lives the western girls at the stables were allowed to lead. But she did not think any more about it until after she returned to Surrey.
A day or two later, at work, she noticed a white VW Golf containing two men drive into the stables, circle around the car park and then leave. When she left work at 5pm she noticed the car again, this time with only one person in it, parked behind a bush on the other side of the road. As she drove away, it followed her and she began to get frightened. When it was still behind her an hour later after she had toured through several Surrey towns she drove to Staines police station and reported the car to officers.
“The police told me they couldn’t tell me who the car belonged to. I refused to leave and go home until they verified who the owners were. He [the policeman] went away and then called me into a little back room and said the name you have given us is connected with the car.”
Furious, she threatened to go to the press with the story of Shamsa’s disappearance, but was talked out of it.
Yesterday, she said she had changed her mind after reading the Guardian’s story on Monday. “I kept quiet for so long because I was a little bit dubious about who we were dealing with. But I had not realised that there was a police investigation going on.”
She later heard from other Longcross staff that they had been made to sign confidentiality agreements which had the effect of forbidding them talking to anyone about Shamsa’s disappearance.
She said that there were many rumours about Shamsa over the following weeks. Subsequently, some friends still working for Sheikh Mohammed in Dubai have told Ms Stevenson that Shamsa is there but has not been seen in public.
Sources say that Shamsa is believed to have spent time living in the Elephant and Castle, south London, in July and August 2000.
Ms Stevenson’s account provides a fascinating insight into the family life of one of the world’s richest and most influential Arab leaders. Every summer, from Royal Ascot to the end of the flatracing season, the entire family and their enormous entourage would would set up home at Longcross. Former employees say that while in Britain, Shamsa, her elder sister, Maetha, and two younger siblings lived separately from the other children at Valley End house, rather than in the main house at Longcross.
Sheikh Mohammed’s children lived under a rigorous security regime, former employees say. Whenever the children left the estate, they had to be accompanied by their close protection officers and a senior male member of estate staff, all of whom were in radio contact.
Each child had a codename, and routes had to be outlined on a map broken down into coded sectors. Protection officers would take up vantage points around the common to track their movements.
At Longcross, the two main entrances were protected by electronic gates and guardhouses. Another set of electronic gates behind the main house divided it off from the rest of the vast property.
When they went out riding on Chobham Common, one bodyguard would have to struggle along behind Shamsa and her group on a mountain bike. According to Ms Stevenson, Shamsa took almost daily delight in galloping off, forcing the bodyguard to try to catch up.
“She just didn’t like authority, she didn’t want to be told what to do,” one friend said. “She could see through the close protection guys, she hated all the pomp and circumstance and all the yes sir, no sir.
“She was a little character but there was no malice in her. She just seemed to have a western girl’s head on her shoulders and a desire for a bit of freedom and perhaps was prepared to pursue that a bit more than the other children or girls, who all knew their place in the family.”
Within months of Shamsa’s disappearance, the entire Longcross operation was closed down as Sheikh Mohammed restructured his British operation. More than 80 horses were removed and by January almost all the staff had been made redundant. At least three claimed unfair dismissal but settled before the cases were heard.
Sheikh Mohammed still owns the property, which is beautifully maintained. But none of the family has returned to Longcross since.
The teenage daughter of the billionaire Crown Prince of Dubai dodged security guards and fled from her father’s vast private estate in Surrey in a Range Rover, her friends have told the Guardian.
Sheikha Shamsa al-Maktoum ran away, they say, a few weeks before she claims she was kidnapped by members of her father Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum’s staff and returned to Dubai.
In a growing controversy over the alleged kidnap of Shamsa, who was 19 at the time, ministers revealed yesterday that her father, who in effect runs the oil-rich Gulf state, tried to intervene with the British government over the ongoing police investigation into the allegations.
In a written parliamentary answer, the Foreign Office minister Ben Bradshaw told the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Norman Baker: “Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum’s London office have raised this matter with the Foreign Office. We have informed them this is a matter for the police.”
Mr Baker had asked what contact there had been between the Foreign Office and Sheikh Mohammed over his daughter’s allegations.
The world’s top racehorse owner, Sheikh Mohammed has remained silent since the Guardian disclosed the existence of a police investigation into his daughter’s claims. Officers are trying to establish whether the events took place as described and whether any offence has been committed.
Cambridgeshire detectives have had difficulty in getting access to members of the Maktoums’ Newmarket staff, where the famous Maktoum racing stables are based. A small private plane is alleged to have flown Shamsa out of the UK in late August 2000.
Ex-employees at the Longcross estate in Surrey, where Sheikh Mohammed’s family were based in the summer, say they had to sign agreements which silenced them about Shamsa’s “escape”.
Lucy Stevenson, who became close to Shamsa as her riding instructor, told the Guardian there was chaos on the estate in mid July last year when Shamsa disappeared.
Staff at Longcross were sent out to scour the surrounding area for any sign of her but Surrey police were not called.
Ms Stevenson, 29, had moved to another job. But, she said, she was approached after Shamsa ran away by a member of Sheikh Mohammed’s staff and questioned over Shamsa’s possible whereabouts.
She says she was later followed by members of the estate’s security staff, until she complained to police.
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what contact there has been between his Department and (a) Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum and (b) the Dubai authorities in relation to the allegation made by Sheikha Shamsa. 
Mr. Bradshaw: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s London office have raised this matter with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We have informed them that this is a matter for the police.
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps are being taken to investigate the allegations of kidnapping made by Sheikha Shamsa. 
Mr. Bradshaw: This is a matter for the police.
Ministers were last night facing calls to reveal what steps have been taken to investigate allegations made by a woman claiming to be the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, one of the world’s richest Arab leaders, that she was kidnapped from a street in Cambridge by members of the sheikh’s staff.
Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, has tabled two written questions in the Commons demanding to know what the Home Office and Foreign Office know about the case, revealed in the Guardian yesterday.
Cambridgeshire police have confirmed that there is an inquiry into an allegation received via a third party that a 19-year-old girl was taken from Britain back to her home country in the Middle East against her will.
Sources in London and Cambridge have independently confirmed to the Guardian that the woman, who has since spoken to police by telephone, claims to be Sheikha Shamsa, the crown prince of Dubai’s daughter.
Sheikh Mohammed has so far remained silent about the investigation, despite extensive attempts by the Guardian to talk to him and his daughter. Yesterday, his London lawyer, Peter Watson, a partner at the City firm Allen and Overy, said that there was “no response as yet.”
Mr Shaibani, the managing director of the Dubai London office, who, according to Sheikh Mohammed’s Newmarket HQ is responsible for handling the sheikh’s personal business in this country, was unavailable for comment.
The woman who contacted police via a British solicitor in March claimed that she was picked up from a street in Cambridge by at least four of Sheikh Mohammed’s Dubai-based staff in August 2000.
She alleges that she was taken to one of the Maktoum properties in Newmarket before being whisked out of the country by private jet the next day.
Officers are trying to establish whether the caller was genuine and the events took place as described. It is not clear whether any criminal offence has been committed.
Mr Baker said yesterday: “This case requires an investigation to establish all the details and that the investigation should be conducted without fear or favour.”
He has tabled a question to the Home Office asking what steps are being taken to investigate the allegations made by the woman claiming to be Sheikha Shamsa.
Mr Baker has also asked Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, what contact there has been between his department and Sheikh Mohammed and the Dubai authorities in relation to the allegations.
Sheikh Mohammed is the key member of the autocratic Maktoum ruling clan in Dubai and defence minister of the United Arab Emirates. Worth an estimated $8bn he and his three brothers are believed to accrue $1m a day each from oil revenues.
He splits his time between Dubai and the UK. As the driving force behind the Godolphin horseracing stable, based in Newmarket, he is one of the most succesful thoroughbred owners in the world.
A young woman claims she was forced abroad in mystery involving leading Arab family
At the end of March Cambridgeshire police received a call from a British solicitor with a bizarre tale to tell. The resulting conversation sparked a police investigation involving allegations of kidnap and the family of one of the Arab world’s most famous leaders.
Cambridgeshire police are investigating whether there is any substance to the allegations, which centre on a late summer evening in August last year.
A woman, who claims to be Sheikha Shamsa, 19, daughter of the enormously wealthy crown prince of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, says she had gone to a bar in Cambridge with two other people.
After leaving the bar, she alleges, they had been walking along a road out of the city when a car had pulled up alongside them. According to her account, it contained at least four men whom the woman claims were from Sheikh Mohammed’s personal staff, all of them apparently Dubai nationals.
The woman alleges that she was ordered into the car and taken to one of the Maktoum properties in Newmarket.
The following day, she says, she was flown to Dubai by private jet.
“If this happened like she says, it was well done, quite a well-planned operation in that they got her out before anyone knew about it,” one source said.
The police have a duty to investigate and are trying to ascertain whether the woman is Sheikha Shamsa as she claims, and whether any of these events happened. It is not clear whether any offence has been committed. The Maktoum family have six private jets, which fly under the title Dubai Air Wing but which are used exclusively for family, horse racing and other personal flights.
Two of the fleet, a Boeing 737 luxury business jet, tailnumber A6-HRS, and a smaller Gulfstream G-IV, tailnumber A6-HHH, spend most of the summer months in Britain to ferry the family and their staff around during the flatracing season. The Guardian has established that for most of August 2000, both aircraft were operating in the UK. One of them made at least one return trip to Dubai during this period carrying passengers. But there is no evidence that the woman claiming to be Sheikha Shamsa travelled on any of these flights.
The planes are based at Farnborough airport in Hampshire but the Maktoums prefer to fly in and out of Stansted airport in Essex because it offers better access to their properties in Newmarket.
The Guardian has made exhaustive attempts to talk to Sheikh Mohammed about this investigation.
A letter to the sheikh was faxed to his London lawyer, Peter Watson of Allen and Overy, with a request that it be forwarded to the sheikh for his response. Two days later, Mr Watson told the Guardian he had “not been able to arrange for this to be done”.
We also faxed the information to the managing director of the Dubai London office, Mr al-Shaibani, whom Dalham Hall – the sheikh’s Newmarket HQ – told us was responsible for handling Sheikh Mohammed’s personal business in this country.
The same letter was sent to an email address for media inquiries listed on Sheikh Mohammed’s personal website, sheikhmohammed.co.ae. On the site, he claims to read his emails every night.
But Sheikh Mohammed and his representatives have not responded. Whether or not the events the woman alleges took place, the very existence of a police investigation involving the family of such a high profile and influential foreign royal is extremely sensitive for Britain’s diplomatic and trade activites in the Middle East.
Sheikh Mohammed is widely recognised as the driving force behind the continued economic success of the tiny emirate. Although his eldest brother, Sheikh Maktoum al-Maktoum is the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed has taken over the reins from his late father, Sheikh Rashid, who transformed Dubai from a collection of rag tag buildings surrounding a trading port to the economic hub of the Gulf region, aided by the discovery of oil and gas reserves in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Born in 1948, Sheikh Mohammed is the third of four brothers who are reputed to get $1m a day each from oil revenues. He has long had close associations with Britain, attending Sandhurst and training with the British army and the RAF.
But he is best known as the world’s leading owner of recehorses through the Godolphin racing stables, which he has built into a global force. His centre of operations is the vast Dalham Hall stud in Newmarket, where he and his son, Rashid, have two mansions surrounded by acres of countryside and protected by imposing iron fences.
A former owner of the Racing Post newspaper, he spends most of the summer flat racing season in the UK while the entire operation moves back to Dubai for the winter. According to Sheikh Mohammed, he and his wife, Sheikha Hind have seven sons and nine daughters.
It may be that the kidnap allegations turn out to be no more than a domestic dispute, as was the case earlier this year in a remarkable incident involving Sheikh Mohammed’s eldest brother, Sheikh Maktoum al-Maktoum. In April 2000, officers from the Metropolitan police’s elite organised crime group and Hampshire police were alerted that the three young sons of Sheikh Mohammed’s eldest brother, Sheikh Maktoum al-Maktoum, had been abducted by a group of four Arab men.
The call was made by the boys’ nanny. A senior officer in the operation said: “The initial report was that they were watching the circus in Chelsea and the nanny had gone to get ice cream for the kids. Because it was reported like that, you have to take a certain amount at face value.”
As more than 200 officers swung into action, police received word that the children were in a car on their way to board a plane at Farnborough airport. Officers racing to the scene were instructed to prevent the plane taking off, and the airport was sealed off by armed police.
“Our force control room felt rightly that they had to give instructions to stop the plane,” the police source said. “We thought members of a royal family were being abducted, and it seemed like we were going to have to do this spot-on because there would be a lot of politics in the aftermath.” But when officers finally boarded the plane, they found only Sheikh Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, and his young Moroccan wife, Sheikha Bouchra, preparing to fly to France to watch the racing at Longchamps. The children arrived at the airport shortly afterwards, accompanied by the four men, who turned out to be the sheikh’s personal bodyguards.
The incident was eventually put down to a dispute between Sheikh Maktoum and his wife over where their sons should be educated. He wanted them to return to Dubai, while she wanted them to go to school in London. Police established they were going to be flown on a separate flight to meet their father in France before travelling on to Dubai.
“It took us a little time to unravel it,” the officer said. “I saw these very fit bodyguards and it just didn’t appear right. We felt there had been a family dispute which had resulted in the father giving the instructions.” Police concluded Sheikh Maktoum had instructed his bodyguards to pick up his sons and fly them to France.
Family ties and high stakes
- Dubai is one of the seven states – together with Abu Dhabi (the capital city), Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah – comprising the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country which borders the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, and measures 83,600 sq km.
- Just 3,885 sq km in size, and with a population of 913,000, Dubai is the second largest of the states, after Abu Dhabi, but ranks as the UAE’s most important port and commercial centre. Last year, GDP amounted to £10.23bn.
- In common with the rest of the UAE, Dubai is a Muslim country in which traditional Arab dress is worn. But, with a burgeoning tourist trade, it is less traditional than many Muslim countries: marriages are arranged, but women have equal educational rights and increasingly work outside the home.
- Power in Dubai is concentrated in the hands of the royal family. Following the death of Sheikh Rashid bin Said al-Maktoum in 1990, his son, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, took over as ruler and as a member of the supreme council of the UAE, while his three brothers have held ministerial positions.
- With each of the brothers earning a reported $1m a day from crude oil alone, the family are also immensely successful at horse racing. One survey, for Total Sport magazine, placed them as the ninth most influential people in the British sporting world.
Police are investigating allegations that the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, one of the world’s richest Arab leaders, and a horse racing friend of the Queen, was kidnapped and returned to Dubai from the UK by members of her father’s staff.
The investigation was sparked by a telephoned plea for help from Dubai to a British solicitor who had dealt with the 19-year-old woman when she went to him for assistance in getting student status on her visa. She claimed to be Sheikha Shamsa, daughter of the influential Crown Prince of Dubai, whose British base is in Newmarket.
Sources with knowledge of the case say the police were alerted by the lawyer at the girl’s request. She alleged that she was picked up in the street in Cambridge by a group of Sheikh Mohammed’s staff from Dubai. Within 24 hours, she said, she had been put on a private jet and flown back to Dubai.
The police are trying to establish whether the caller was genuine and the events took place as described. It is not clear whether any criminal offence has been committed.
Officers have tried to interview members of Sheikh Mohammed’s Newmarket staff but have had difficulty getting to them.
After the initial report, the woman was able to have a number of direct telephone conversations from Dubai with investigating officers. She claimed that she had been prevented from leaving the country since her return.
The police are understood to have obtained details of a hotel booking from the Cambridge area on the night in question, and a flight plan.
They have refused to comment on the details of the case, but in a statement to the Guardian a spokeswoman said: “Cambridge detectives are investigating an allegation that a 19-year-old woman staying in the Cambridge area in August 2000 was taken against her will by a number of people to the Middle East, her home country.
“The allegation was initially made by a third party to police in March 2001.
“Officers have since spoken to a woman believed to be the 19-year-old woman, who is now thought to be alive and unharmed in the Middle East, to gain further details about the incident. The investigation is being headed by Detective Chief Inspector David Beck.”
DCI Beck is the force’s chief hostage negotiator. He was an adviser during the Stansted airport hijacking in February.
Sources in London and Cambridge have independently confirmed to the Guardian that the woman making the allegations described herself as Sheikha Shamsa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum.
As the most prominent member of the autocratic Maktoum ruling clan, Sheikh Mohammed is Dubai’s head of state and the defence minister of the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven Gulf states.
He has extensive British interests, mainly through his Godolphin horseracing base in Newmarket, where the family owns several large properties.
The Foreign Office refused to comment on the case, referring all inquiries to Cambridgeshire police.
But the Guardian has made extensive attempts to verify the facts. We have established that Sheikh Mohammed does have a daughter called Shamsa. She was born on August 15 1981, and once finished 10 places ahead of Princess Anne in a long-distance horse race across the Arabian desert.
When we telephoned one of Sheikh Mohammed’s residences in Dubai and asked to speak to Sheikha Shamsa, a man took a contact number, but the call was not returned.
We have also submitted a written request to speak to Sheikha Shamsa directly, through her father’s London lawyer, Peter Watson.
Mr Watson, a partner in the City firm Allen and Overy, confirmed her existence, and told the Guardian that it was his understanding that she was in Dubai, “where she lives happily with her family”.
When we asked him to convey the request to speak to her, the lawyer said the information the Guardian had provided him with was “too scant to provide a basis on which to seek instructions”.
Sheikh Mohammed, his London office and his lawyer have all declined to comment on the police investigation.