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.”
The ruler of Dubai has been ordered to pay his youngest wife and their two children a record £554 million settlement after a bitter divorce.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 72, was found to pose a serious security risk to his former wife Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, 47, the sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan. She fled to London in fear for her life in 2019 with their two children — Jalila, now 14, and Zayed, nine — after her husband discovered she was having an affair with her male bodyguard.
It emerged today that the princess was blackmailed for £6.7 million by her lover, a married former British soldier employed as her close protection officer, and other members of her security team who threatened to reveal the affair.
Mr Justice Moor, sitting in the family division of the High Court in London, condemned the blackmailers after hearing details about their actions during the divorce case. “It sticks in the throat that these people have been able to get away with this and have not been prosecuted,” he said.
Haya was first blackmailed in February 2018 by a former member of her security team who was bringing an unfair dismissal claim, according to a judgment made public today.
The sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan took £1.2 million from the bank account of her then ten-year-old daughter, Jalila, to pay the blackmailer. Five months later she took a further £4.45 million from her daughter’s account to pay two other blackmailers from her security team: Mr B and Mr C.
The princess said: “I was scared and that was the money available in that account.”
Haya was then blackmailed by her lover, identified as Mr D, and paid him £1.2 million from her own account.
Mr Justice Moor said: “These individuals had blackmailed HRH [Haya] over an affair she had with one of these four people.” He added: “This was clearly a most unsatisfactory episode. I realise I have not heard from the alleged blackmailers but nobody should be blackmailed and HRH must have been very frightened at this point.”
Haya, the youngest of Mohammed’s six wives, fled Dubai to London in 2019 in fear of her life after her husband discovered her adultery. Mohammed, a member of the Queen’s racing circle, was found by the High Court to pose a serious security risk to Haya and their two children, Jalila, now 14, and Zayed, nine.
The princess, who is first secretary at the Jordanian embassy in London, told the court that she was “hunted and harassed” by her powerful former husband and the risk from Dubai would continue even after he died.
Mohammed said that he had no intention of harming Haya, despite an earlier High Court ruling that he abducted two of his adult daughters — Princess Latifa and Princess Shamsa — because they attempted to escape his control. The court had also ruled that Mohammed was responsible for hacking the mobile phones of Haya and her lawyers, including the Tory peer Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia.
Legal bills in the Dubai case have totalled more than £140 million; Haya has spent more than £70 million and the sheikh’s costs are estimated to be even higher.
Calculations of the divorce settlement surpasses the British record of £453 million which the Russian businessman Farkhad Akhmedov, 66, was ordered to pay his ex-wife, Tatiana, 49, before a £135 million deal was agreed.
Haya did not want a share of her husband’s wealth for herself but initially sought £1.4 billion of maintenance for their two children, their security costs and compensation for assets he had seized.
The judge ordered Mohammed to provide a £290 million bank guarantee and a backdated £10 million payment to provide lifetime security for the princess and for their children until they complete their education.
He also told the sheikh to pay the princess a lump sum of £251 million for child maintenance and to compensate her for the loss of jewellery and haute couture clothing she left at the Beach Palace in Dubai and a further £3 million for the children’s private education.
The princess said that more than 400 horses had run under her name, including the 2008 Epsom Derby winner New Approach, but some had been transferred without her consent into the name of the sheikh’s celebrated Godolphin stable in Newmarket, Suffolk.
Mohammed, 72, said that Haya owned no racehorses and although some ran in her colours and were registered in her name, they were at all times owned and financed by Godolphin. He said the nomination to family members to permit his horses to run in their colours was merely “a licence”.
The judge said: “The racehorses were clearly not owned by HRH [Haya]. They were simply run in her colours. I am sure that gave her great pleasure but it is obvious that the horses were part of Godolphin.”
He ruled that the princess, a former president of the International Equestrian Federation who had served on the International Olympic Committee, should receive £5 million from her former husband to buy a “few reasonable horses” and run a “small operation” for several years.
Kevin Manning was wearing the green and black silks of Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein when he rode New Approach to win the 2008 Epsom Derby.
The victory was another triumph for the princess who, with her husband Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, was one of the most powerful figures in British equestrianism and a member of the Queen’s racing circle.
It has now emerged that Haya demanded £75 million in compensation from Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, accusing him of seizing 62 of her racehorses and 21 showjumpers during their bitter divorce.
The £554 million divorce judgment officers a rare insight into the running of the sheikh’s celebrated Godolphin stables, which is alleged to effectively bankroll British racing.
Mr Justice Moor ruled that Haya’s racehorses actually belonged to Godolphin while the showjumpers she bought to compete at the Tokyo Olympics were partially funded from her children’s bank accounts.
The princess, 47, said that more than 400 horses had run as belonging to her but some had been transferred without her consent into the name of the sheikh’s Godolphin stable in Newmarket, Suffolk. The princess said she received £15 million in winnings in March 2018.
New Approach had been given to her by Mohammed on the birth of their daughter, Jalila, the princess said. She said the horse’s stud fees, which ran to many millions, had been retained by Godolphin.
Mohammed, 72, said Haya owned no racehorses and that, although some ran in her colours and were registered in her name, they were owned and financed by Godolphin at all times. He said the nomination to family members to permit his horses to run in their colours was merely “a licence”.
Mohammed accused Haya of exaggerating the valuations of many of the horses. He gave the example of Ben Vrackie, which Haya valued at £400,000 but which sold for £20,000.
Moor ruled in the family division of the High Court in London that the racehorses did not legally belong to Haya and the £15 million “winnings” had been a “generous gift” from her husband.
The judge said: “The racehorses were clearly not owned by HRH [Haya]. They were simply run in her colours. I am sure that gave her great pleasure but it is obvious that the horses were part of Godolphin. Godolphin bought the horses, paid for their upkeep and kept any winnings or stud fees. Overall, it is pretty obvious that the horses allocated to HRH would, like the entire Godolphin operation, have cost money not made money.”
He ruled that the princess — a former president of the International Equestrian Federation who had served on the International Olympic Committee — should receive £5 million from her former husband to buy a “few reasonable horses” and run a “small operation” for several years.
Haya, a sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan, competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and was hoping to enter an equestrian team for the 2020 Tokyo games when her marriage collapsed. She spent £13.5 million of their children’s money buying horses for the Olympic showjumping bid and is herself owed £1.25 million, the court was told.
The team’s initial horses cost €8.1 million (£6.9 million) with PSG Final bought for a further €7.2 million and Irenice Horta for €5 million.
Aralyn Blue was paid for with money taken from the account of Haya’s son, Zayed, who is now nine. Irenice Horta and Chianti’s Champion, which cost £2.6 million, were bought with money from the account of her daughter, Jalila, now 14.
Haya said the showjumping project had ended and that she would now sell the horses to refund the children’s accounts. Mohammed has agreed to return to Haya some showjumpers valued by her at £533,900.
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
The UK national, who has spent three years in jail awaiting trial in the AgustaWestland case, says the Modi government helped the UAE abduct Princess Latifa in 2018 so that it could get him in exchange.
New Delhi: The British national Christian James Michel, accused in the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal and now into his third year as an undertrial prisoner, has threatened to go on an indefinite hunger strike in Delhi’s Tihar jail from today, November 25, if charges of human rights violations are not brought against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In a nine-page handwritten letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson dated October 5 but made public only now, Michel has accused Modi of being responsible for the abduction of Princess Latifa in 2018 following an attack on the yacht she was travelling in on the high seas by Indian special forces. Michel has claimed that he was handed over to India by the United Arab Emirates’ authorities in exchange for Latifa, the estranged and runaway daughter of the ruler of Dubai.
Languishing in jail for three years ‘without charge or trial’
Michel wrote that he has been in an Indian jail for three years “without charge or trial” and that he was “brought to India from Dubai under now accepted rendition that has also been confirmed as such by the UN Human Rights Council”.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), a body under the UN, had in February this year held Michel’s detention in India to be “arbitrary” and called for his immediate release. The WGAD had also taken cognisance of submissions by Michel’s lawyers that his handover to India in 2018 by the UAE authorities was a “swap deal” for Princess Latifa. The Ministry of External Affairs had, however, rejected these charges and termed the WGAD’s opinion as one based on “limited information” and “biased allegations”.
`Rakesh Asthana wanted me to sign false confession naming Rahul, Sonia Gandhi, Ahmed Patel’
Significantly, in Michel’s letter written on October 5, 2021, and submitted to the British High Commission in New Delhi – a copy of which is with The Wire – he has accused former Central Bureau of Investigation special director Rakesh Asthana of telling him in a meeting in Dubai “to sign a false confession naming Rahul and Sonia Gandhi and Ahmed Patel (a senior Congress leader) in corruption”. Asthana was later made commissioner of the Delhi Police in July 2021.
Michel wrote that he was told in the meeting, which took place in mid-May 2018 at the Hyatt Hotel, Dubai and which was also attended by nearly five UAE officials, that “if I refuse, I will be taken to India, put in jail for a long time and if one day I get bail, I will not be allowed to travel and be kept in India for 20 years”.
Michel, whose lawyers had earlier also claimed that his hand over to India in 2018 by the UAE authorities was a “swap deal” for Princess Latifa, daughter of the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, reiterated the charge in his letter to Johnson.
He wrote that a friend of his, who was earlier with the UK’s foreign ministry “came to see me in Dubai in April 2018 and told me, I am to be exchanged for Princess Latifa who was abducted off her yacht in international waters off the coast of India by Indian Coast Guard, Indian marine commandos (Marcos) and UAE soldiers on 4 March, 2018”.
According to Michel, “Latifa was taken to India and flown back to Dubai.” Explaining to Johnson the gravity of the incident, he added, “…to be clear what we are talking about, passengers and crew were tied up, some crew were severely beaten, shots fired and Latifa said she was dragged off by the Indian attackers.” All this while, he said, she cried: “You can’t get me back alive. Don’t take me back, shoot me here. Don’t take me back.”
`Dubai ruler urged Modi to kidnap his daughter’
Citing the court proceedings before Sir Andrew McFarlane from the family division of the London high court, Michel wrote that the judge recorded that Maktoum had “requested Modi to kidnap his daughter, who had only 7 days earlier escaped from Dubai. My friend explained, Modi in return demanded my rendition from Dubai to India.”
Michel added in the letter that “if I had any doubt about my exchange for Latifa, in mid-May 2018, I was called with my lawyers to a meeting with UAE representatives and an Indian representative”.
During this meeting with Asthana and other officials, Michel wrote that he was told “if I sign I will be made a witness, the Red Notice will be dropped and I will not have to go to India. Asthana made it very clear a deal has been done and law will not save you, you will be taken to India”.
Over three meetings, he added, he refused to sign. Then, Michel wrote, “I was arrested on 14 June.” He added that “over 130 days in jail (in UAE), I never was allowed to see my Dubai lawyers, I was never presented in court and to this day I have never even been allowed to see my extradition notice”.
`Flown to India on December 4, 2018, subjected to rights abuse’
Though on November 14, 2018, according to Michel, “I heard that the UAE Supreme Court had rejected India’s extradition request”, “the next day a new Supreme Court was ordered to retry the case of extradition”. He added that when his Italian lawyer rushed to Dubai, he was arrested at the airport on some “rubbish charge”.
Michel said “on the 4th of December, I was blindfolded, handcuffed and pushed on a private jet”. Once in India, he claimed, he was “subjected to riotous, free-wheeling human rights abuse”. He said he was interrogated extensively and the British High Commission were refused access for 40 days.
He insisted that for 40 days, there were “threats” but “no trial” and all this while there was “continual pressure to sign a false confession”.
`Sheikh wanted to protect his own reputation’
Michel also wrote to Johnson about why the abduction of Princess Latifa took place:
“For his Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, it is clear. His daughter Latifa was escaping his abusive father and threatening to expose all about his highness and the UAE just as the World Exposition was in preparation. As Latifa said, ‘He will kill people to protect his own reputation.’”
As for Modi, Michel wrote, “it is a well established principal (sic) that every crime has a motive.”
He added that “Modi was misinformed (by a senior Italian politician, who till today will not answer questions to Italy’s Parliament) that I am an important financier of the Gandhi family”.
As such, Michel wrote, “Modi thought after his failure to extradite me in 2017 (that) if he could rendition me to India in 2018 in exchange for Latifa in time for the early 2019 Indian elections, I could be made to make statements against the Gandhi family and improve his chances no end.”
Michel added that if Latifa’s exchange for him was seen as a “coincidence”, then one should “look at Modi’s own words spoken at a huge rally in Rajasthan just after my rendition on 4th December 2018”.
In the rally in December 2018, Michel quoted Modi as saying: “Under the regime of the United Progressive Alliance a VVIP chopper scam took place. We came to power, an investigation was conducted into it and one person from Dubai was found guilty for his involvement in the case. Now this `razdaar’ (custodian of secrets) will reveal all the secrets.”
Michel proclaimed that “This is Modi’s motive. Sir it is quite pointless to deny this. It is out”.
`Open show of contempt for international, maritime law’
Michel also wrote to Johnson, “There is one last question under why. Why did Modi send an armada to abduct one little girl off an unarmed boat?”
He then went to provide the answer himself, saying: “This was an open show of contempt for international law, maritime law and all manner of internationally accepted human rights norms. This attack in international waters was a statement to the West by two leaders. ‘We are sovereign. We are above the law and we don’t need the West, its laws or its human rights.’”
Reminding Johnson of how the first principles of constitutional democracy were inscribed in stone in Magna Carta in 1215 with the words, “Be ye ever so high the law is above you”, Michel said “ensuring accountability for such crimes is fundamental to the community of nations”.
Michel has also written that the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate have not taken him for interrogation for the past six months and yet Tihar’s most dangerous convicts have been placed with him.
“The Modi government have realised I am not going to break. (But) They cannot just let me go without a political expedient face-saving solution (sic).”
As for his hunger strike to seek his release, Michel wrote, that in his ward this “is not a big deal” for in any other country such a ward would be called death row since most of the inmates there had received a death sentence.
Through the nine-page handwritten letter, Michel urged Johnson to “do what your government promised to the British people – `Apply to Indians or those in countries that are allies or friends’ – sanctions for human rights abusers.”
He said his hunger strike will commence on November 25 and continue “until such time as your government announce their intention to apply UK’s global human rights (Magnitsky) sanction regime against those individuals and or entities involved in the attack on the Nostromo (yacht), the abduction of Latifa, passengers and crew in international waters on 4 March, 2018.”
The Magnitsky legislation was passed by the UK in July 2020 and has already led to the sanctioning of a number of individuals from different countries.