The biggest divorce case in British legal history began yesterday as a Jordanian princess arrived at court to demand a share of the fortune of the ruler of Dubai. Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, 47, is seeking a settlement following the collapse of her marriage to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 72.
A ten-day hearing at the High Court before Mr Justice Moor will decide the payout for the princess and their two young children.
Details of the hearing, conducted in front of journalists, remain secret at this stage but experts predicted before it started that the settlement could surpass the record £450 million awarded in 2017 to Tatiana Akhmedova, the former wife of the Russian billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov. That award was reduced to £150 million in July.
The princess was represented by the Conservative peer Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia, whose divorce clients have included Prince Charles.
A senior judge ruled last month that Sheikh Mohammed was implicated in hacking the mobile telephones of the princess, her lawyers, including Shackleton, and security staff. The sheikh rejected the judge’s findings.
Haya, the youngest of Sheikh Mohammed’s six wives, fled to London with their children in 2019 after he became concerned about her relationship with her British bodyguard.
Sarah Palin at Doughty Street Chambers acted successfully for nine newspapers and broadcasters, including The Times, so they could publish judgments on the custody hearings between the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, and his former wife, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein. The senior family judge ruled that Mohammed had hacked the phones of Princess Haya and her lawyers.
What were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome in this case? To craft an application that would permit journalists to report on the hearings, while still protecting information about the children, which my clients recognised should be out of bounds. Somewhat uniquely in this case, the public interest, the mother’s Article 8 rights [respect for private and family life and correspondence], and those of the children, all favoured publication.
What is the best decision you have taken as a lawyer? Specialising in media law. Libel, privacy and data protection address the fairest way to balance competing rights but can be about almost anything.
Who do you most admire in the law? Dame Victoria Sharp for her unfailing good judgment, her readiness to help, her fortitude. She led me many times and showed me that the Bar can be a wonderful career for women with children.
What is the best advice you have received? Andrew Caldecott QC taught me that a well-stocked mind and precision in the use of language are what makes a good advocate exceptional.
What are the best and worst aspects of being a lawyer? The blood, sweat and tears the job requires.
What is the funniest thing that has happened in your job? Too many . . . Up there is Richard Hartley QC, who led me in the Grobbelaar libel appeal, getting up on stage and giving patrons of the Walkabout — a pub above Temple station — a rendition of the Blues Brothers, complete with Ray-Bans, fedora and the mashed potato.
What law would you enact? Anyone charged under the Official Secrets Act 1989 should be able to have a public interest defence.
What is your favourite book? Sybille Bedford’s semi-autobiography Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education. The Bar’s loss — born in 1911, as a teenager she wanted to be a barrister but felt her sex and lack of formal education were against it.
High court rulings made public this week found he had orchestrated the hacking of the phones of his former wife, the Jordanian princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, 47, and her lawyers, the Tory peer Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia and Nicholas Manners.
He had earlier been found responsible for the kidnapping of his daughters Princess Shamsa, 40, in Cambridge in 2000 and her sister Princess Latifa, 35, from a yacht in the Indian Ocean in 2018.
The sheikh’s lawyers complained that a proposed exclusion zone around Haya’s Surrey mansion would breach his right to freedom as it would make it difficult for him to visit the Guards Polo Club from his £75 million Longcross estate, near the village of Chobham.
In a court submission his legal team, headed by Lord Pannick, QC, said the sheikh has had “roots in the area for generations”, adding: “He has strong social associations there, including with members of the royal family and in the horse-racing fraternity.”
Al-Maktoum is frequently photographed at the Guards Polo Club. Latifa and Shamsa’s older sister, Princess Maitha, 41, led the United Arab Emirates polo team to victory in the Cartier Queen’s Cup at the club in June.
The sheikh and Haya had attended games at the Guards Club together before she fled to London in fear for her life with the two young children in 2019 after al-Maktoum became concerned about her close relationship with her British bodyguard.
The club’s board includes high-ranking retired army officers and senior city executives. David Haigh, a former lawyer for Latifa and the first publicly confirmed British victim of the Pegasus software hacking, said yesterday that al-Maktoum’s close association with the Guards Club helped to enhance his international image.
“The Dubai ruler should be radioactive to the great and good of British society, to our government and to the Queen and prestigious organisations like the Guards Polo Club,” said Haigh.
“The fact that he is still not raises serious questions about who we allow to sit at Britain’s top tables, and precisely what they are doing there and why. Do we stand for human rights and the rule of law or not, or do we look the other way when there is money to be made?”
Lawyers representing Haya, the youngest of al-Maktoum’s six wives, alleged in submissions that the sheikh broke five UK laws including interception of communications, perverting the course of justice and breaches of the data protection act.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, concluded it was more likely than not the sheikh was responsible for the use of the sophisticated Pegasus spyware to hack the telephones and there had been abuse of power by a head of government.
The Guards Polo Club could not be reached for comment.
So bad were relations between Princess Haya and her estranged husband Dubai’s billionaire ruler that she felt “hunted all the time” and that there was “nowhere for me to go to be safe”, even in the UK, where she had built a new life after their relationship imploded.
The bitterness of the battle between her and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum became clear in eleven explosive court rulings made public in London this week that threaten to tarnish the international reputation of one of the Gulf’s most important leaders.
The rulings set out how Sheikh Mohammed was “prepared to use the arm of the UAE State to achieve his own aims in relation to the women in his family” and to wage a wider “campaign of fear and intimidation” against Princess Haya.
The findings of a High Court judge that Sheikh Mohammed was prepared to use his “immense wealth, political power and international influence” against Haya — including allowing his agents to hack her phone using NSO Group’s Pegasus military-grade spyware — have repercussions beyond the Gulf state.
The vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates has deep ties to the British establishment. He has been a guest of the Queen at Royal Ascot and he is a major player in the horseracing world through his massive Godolphin stables. The rulings also come as post Brexit Britain hopes to build stronger ties with the Gulf, already a big trading partner.
But during the past two years darker details of Sheikh Mohammed’s personal life have been thrust into the public arena as a result of his long running court battle with Princess Haya over their children. The princess fled to Britain in 2019 with their two children. The High Court has already found as part of the case that the ruler of Dubai orchestrated the abduction of two of his adult daughters Sheikha Latifa and Sheikha Shamsa, the former in international waters off the coast of India in 2018 and the latter from England in 2000.
This week brought further revelations. One court ruling sets out how the Sheikh and his agents plotted to keep tabs on Princess Haya, his sixth wife and the half sister of the King of Jordan, by buying the £30m Parkwood estate in Berkshire which is close to Haya’s Castlewood mansion.
Princess Haya was so concerned about the possible proximity of her ex-husband that her lawyers successfully applied to the High Court to extend an existing non molestation order. The injunction banned the Sheikh or his associates from a 100-metre exclusion zone around her property and a 1,000 feet no fly zone above it to protect her and blocked any purchase of the 77-acre estate.
According to the ruling, Princess Haya testified: “The prospect of Sheikh Mohammed, or those on his behalf buying the properties around Castlewood is terrifying and utterly wearing. It feels like the walls are closing in on me. I feel like I am defending myself against a whole “state”.
She said: “It feels as if I am being stalked, that there is literally nowhere for me to go to be safe from (the father), or those acting in his interests. It is hugely oppressive”.
Haya told the court that the past two years since she left Dubai have been “beset by threats and pressures” which also included constant security threats, misrepresentation of the couple’s court case in the Arab press and by her former husband’s “violent and threatening poetry”, according to her testimony contained in another court ruling dated June 2021.
The surreptitious hacking of Princess Haya’s phone and that of five associates including Fiona Shackleton, Haya’s eminent divorce lawyer who has also represented Prince Charles and Paul McCartney, was discovered purely by chance by a US academic, according to a court ruling on the phone hacking. Later that day Baroness Shackleton was alerted to the hacking again by Cherie Blair QC, a barrister and wife of former prime minister Tony Blair who advises NSO on human rights issues.
NSO told the court it became aware of a potential hack a day earlier, but at least one of the phones in question had been targeted months previously.
Sheikh Mohammed this week denied the allegations. He said in a statement: “These matters concern supposed operations of State security. As a head of government involved in private family proceedings, it was not appropriate for me to provide evidence on such sensitive matters either personally or via my advisers in a foreign court.” He added that the court findings are “based on an incomplete picture” and based on evidence “that was not disclosed to me or my advisers” and that “they were made in a manner which was unfair.” he said.
In Britain the hacking has prompted calls for action by members of the opposition Labour party. One Labour MP Chris Bryant has urged the foreign secretary Liz Truss to review the relationship with Dubai. There has been concern that Shackleton, a member of the House of Lords, had her parliamentary email targeted. The UK Foreign Office described the “UK-UAE bilateral relationship as strong” and said cyber capabilities should be used in a way that “is legal, responsible and proportionate”.
The Metropolitan Police opened a five-month investigation into the phone hacking last year but closed its probe in February without charges being brought.
But back in the Middle East, the revelations have gone unreported by the local media, with Sheikh Mohammed’s private life seen as no one else’s business. He is revered in the UAE as a modernising and visionary leader who changed Dubai from a regional trade entrepot into a global business and tourist destination.
The UK-UAE relations slumped to a nadir in 2018, when British student Matthew Hedges was detained in solitary confinement for months, accused of being an MI6 spy before being convicted and later pardoned.
Since then, the pandemic has reaffirmed the importance of resetting the historic relationship, culminating in the signing last month of a “partnership for the future” that included a UAE pledge to invest £10bn in clean energy, technology and infrastructure in the UK.
On Friday Boris Johnson’s UK government kicked off preparations for a post-Brexit trade deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council by launching a 14-week consultation ahead of formal negotiations starting in 2022. The UAE is the second-biggest economy in the six member GCC. The chair of a UK parliamentary group on human rights in the Gulf accused the government of “hypocrisy” over the talks because of the repression of civil society and the persecution of dissidents in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE.
Against that backdrop, the court battle between Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya is set to rumble on.
As she told the court: “Every time I think a resolution may be in sight, the ground shifts again, and the finish line recedes further into the distance. At times, I am exhausted by trying to keep my balance and a level head in the face of the magnitude of what I face.”
The Crown Prosecution Service said yesterday that it gave legal advice to the police but had not ordered its investigation to be closed. A spokesman said: “Following a request by the Metropolitan Police, we gave some general advice on an investigation related to phone hacking. The decision to end the investigation was made by the police.”
A legal source said that the hundreds of pages of legal rulings and other documents released on Wednesday could implicate suspects not protected by diplomatic immunity.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, found there had been hacking of the sheikh’s former wife, the Jordanian princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, 47, and her lawyers: the Conservative peer Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia and Nicholas Manners.
Haya’s lawyers alleged in submission to the court that Mohammed broke five UK laws, including interception of communications, perverting the course of justice and breaches of the Data Protection Act. McFarlane concluded it was more likely than not that Mohammed was responsible for the use of the Pegasus spyware and there had been abuse of power by a head of government. The use of spyware in this way would be a breach of domestic criminal law.
The Metropolitan Police said that its specialist crime command received multiple allegations of crime, including unauthorised access and interception of digital devices relating to six alleged victims. A spokeswoman said: “Officers engaged with the complainants and significant inquiries were carried out in collaboration with law enforcement partners over five months. All lines of inquiry were explored as far as possible.”
The force said that the investigation was closed in February because there were no further investigative opportunities. The spokeswoman added: “We will of course review any new information or evidence which comes to light in connection with these allegations.”
Mark Lewis, a lawyer who helped to expose Fleet Street phone hacking, said: “The hacking of a lawyer’s phone by the other side is one of the greatest threats that undermines a law-based democracy. Both the criminal law and civil law are engaged. Jurisdictional issues might hamper the criminal investigation as to where the alleged crime took place and where the alleged criminals are.”
The Pegasus spyware is much more intrusive than listening to mobile phone voicemails, which led to the jailing of journalists and a private investigator. Pegasus can record calls, copy photographs, secretly film users and access address books, call histories, calendars, emails and internet browsing histories. It is officially designed for intelligence agencies and police.
There were already calls for a public inquiry into the kidnapping of one of Mohammed’s daughters in Cambridge in 2000. Lawyers claim they have fresh evidence, including the identity of the British bodyguard who abducted Princess Shamsa when she was 19. Shamsa claims she was taken to her father’s 3,300-acre Dalham Hall estate in Suffolk, which includes his Godolphin racing stables, before being flown out of the country by helicopter.
Jude Lanchin, a lawyer at Bindmans LLP, and Alun Jones QC said they would be handing the new evidence to Cambridgeshire police. Detectives in the original investigation complained that it had been blocked by the Foreign Office.
The wife of Tony Blair, the former Labour leader, is an ethics adviser to NSO, the Israeli intelligence company behind Pegasus spyware.
She called Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia in August last year saying that the divorce lawyer and her client, the former wife of the ruler of Dubai, appeared to have been victims of hacking. Blair, 67, a QC, told the High Court that she had been contacted “at nearly midnight Israeli time” by NSO and informed that “their software may have been misused to monitor the phone of Baroness Shackleton and her client, Her Royal Highness Princess Haya”.
“The NSO senior manager told me that NSO were very concerned about this and asked me to contact Baroness Shackleton urgently so that she could notify Princess Haya,” she added.
Six days later Blair called Shackleton again and “confirmed it was the Emirate of Dubai, not [the United Arab Emirates] in general, who she was talking about,” the High Court was told.
Hours before Blair’s initial call Shackleton’s law firm, Payne Hicks Beach (PHB), had received a warning from Martyn Day, a human rights lawyer. He said that a Canadian computer expert who was assisting a UAE activist who had been targeted using Pegasus had found evidence that PHB had also been targeted.
NSO later confirmed that Shackleton had been targeted. Its London lawyers, Schillings, initially told PHB that Blair was not privy to the identity of any of the company’s clients.
NSO has faced international criticism after Amnesty claimed it had evidence that people of “interest” to its spyware clients included Roula Khalaf, editor of the Financial Times, and Hanan Elatr, wife of the murdered dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Blair set up Omnia Strategy in 2007. NSO hired the company to act as an external ethical adviser and highlighted the role of Blair and Omnia three times in a report published last month to demonstrate its “preservation and protection of human rights”.
Blair did not respond to a request for comment yesterday. She has previously issued a statement saying she was “encouraged by [NSO Group’s] recent progress on human rights matters”. She said: “NSO Group’s commitment to implementing the UN guiding principles on business and human rights is critically important for the company, the sector in which they operate, and our society.”
Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, said Blair’s evidence was “entirely compatible with, and is not contrary to, a conclusion that the source of the hacking was the [United Arab Emirates]”. He added: “It is clear from Mrs Blair’s account that, from day one, NSO had sufficient information that its software had been used against Baroness Shackleton and [Princess Haya] to cause the senior management to take steps to make contact, during the night, to alert PHB.”
Israeli system designed for intelligence services and police
The spyware used by the ruler of Dubai to hack into the mobile telephone of a Tory peer and others is officially designed for intelligence agencies and police.
The Pegasus system can record calls, copy messages and photographs and secretly film users. It can also access address books, call history, calendars, emails and internet browsing histories.
The software can infect billions of phones running iOS or Android operating systems without users having to do anything like opening a message or clicking on a rogue link.
During one attack linked to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 265 megabytes of data (equivalent to 24 hours of voice recording data or 500 photographs) was taken from the mobile telephone of his former wife.
Pegasus was created by NSO Group Technologies which was reportedly founded by former members of Unit 8200, specialists in the Israeli Intelligence Corps responsible for collecting signals intelligence and code breaking.
President Macron is among 14 serving or former national leaders to have allegedly been spied on by the software. Others include President Ramaphosa of South Africa and Imran Khan, the Pakistani prime minister, according to research by Amnesty International. Clients of NSO are reported to have identified 50,000 mobile telephone users since 2016, the group says.
NSO insists it provides the spyware to governments and their intelligence services for use in tackling serious crime and terrorism only. The company claims Amnesty’s technical report on the widespread use of Pegasus is a “compilation of speculative and baseless assumptions”.
The London law firm Bindmans is investigating alleged misuse of Pegasus by foreign governments to target Baroness Uddin, Madawi al-Rasheed, a professor at the London School of Economics, and Raghad Altikriti, president of the Muslim Association of Britain.
David Haigh, a human rights lawyer, in August became the first confirmed British victim of Pegasus. He had represented Mohammed’s daughter, Princess Latifa, after she was seized on the sheikh’s orders from a yacht in the Indian Ocean in 2018.
NSO said in a statement to the High Court that on August 4 last year it received information “that raised the possibility that Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia’s mobile phone, that of another unnamed member of her firm and that of her client may have been compromised”.
The company said the hacking appeared to end on September 15 and after the investigation the contract with the unidentified customer was terminated. It did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.
A British judge’s conclusion that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum used sophisticated spyware to hack the phone of his estranged wife’s lawyer will only deepen the acrimony in what was already a bitter custody battle. But the news that Dubai’s ruler now faces an investigation by Scotland Yard will be met with particular dismay in the corridors of Whitehall, still ringing with celebration over the United Arab Emirates’ £10 billion investment in British infrastructure. That deal was hailed by Downing Street as a critical show of confidence in post-Brexit Britain and a mark of the strong and developing relationship with the UAE.
For a close ally, the UAE has long had a problematic human rights record, in common with other Gulf states. Indeed, too often in recent years the UAE has not behaved as an ally at all, including in 2018 when Dubai police arrested the British academic Matthew Hedges and sentenced him to life imprisonment for spying. In fact, the UAE had spied on him, allegedly hacking both his phone and that of the lawyer trying to win his freedom.
Now the charge is that Sheikh Mohammed is responsible for the hacking of the phone of Baroness Shackleton, his estranged wife’s divorce lawyer and a member of the House of Lords — a finding he disputes. It is the kind of criminal activity that, if undertaken by an adversary, would result in an immediate diplomatic crisis and, potentially, sanctions. Yet, so far, silence.
Sheikh Mohammed may have little personally to fear from a police investigation. He has asserted diplomatic immunity to the court. A police investigation into the abduction of his daughter, Princess Shamsa, in Cambridge more than 20 years ago ran out of steam when the Foreign Office refused to cooperate. The UAE’s investment in Britain may be safe. Britain’s reputation for even-handedness may be more in peril.
The government was urged last night to review its diplomatic relationship with one of its closest Middle East allies after a judge implicated its ruler in the hacking of a Tory peer’s mobile phone.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai, a member of the Queen’s racing circle, faces a renewed police investigation into the use of the Pegasus spyware program. Victims include his former wife, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, 47, and her lawyer, Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia.
Scotland Yard, the National Crime Agency and Black Rod, who oversees administration of the House of Lords, have been informed of the hacking.
Sheikh Mohammed, 72, has also been found to have attempted to buy a stately home in Surrey to intimidate his former wife, who lived with their two young children in a neighbouring mansion. He denies the allegations and said the findings were based on incomplete information and were made in a manner unfair to him. The Labour MP Chris Bryant said: “The Foreign Office needs to do a proper inquiry into our relationship with Dubai.”
Authorities won’t take action over sheik, says lecturer
A British academic whose mobile phone was hacked after he was jailed in Dubai believes that he will be blocked from investigating a court ruling that its ruler was responsible for spying on a Conservative peer.
Matthew Hedges said he found out in July that he and his lawyer had had calls intercepted by the Pegasus spyware system after he had been jailed in 2018. In a judgment made public yesterday, Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, concluded that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum was responsible for the hacking of his former wife and her divorce lawyer’s phones. The Foreign Office said it would not comment on possible sanctions against the Dubai ruler, who has diplomatic immunity.
Hedges, from Durham, was jailed for life in the United Arab Emirates after being convicted of spying on behalf of the British government, but later received a pardon. He said he does not believe any new police investigation into the findings will proceed because of the Foreign Office’s record of refusing to co-operate in cases involving the sheikh.
“He’s going to be investigated. But the police won’t get the help and support from the Foreign Office,” Hedges said.
A 2001 investigation into the abduction of Mohammed’s daughter, Princess Shamsa, in Cambridge a year earlier was abandoned after police were barred from Dubai. Officers later blamed Foreign Office obstruction.
The hacking ruling came ten months after he found Mohammed had ordered the abduction of Shamsa and her sister, Princess Latifa, 35, taken from a yacht in the Indian Ocean in 2018.
The judge concluded in civil proceedings that there had been hacking of the phones of Mohammed’s former wife, the Jordanian princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, 47; her divorce lawyer Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia; fellow lawyer Nicholas Manners and attempts to hack phones of princess’s personal assistant and two of her security staff.
Shackleton, 65, is one of Britain’s leading divorce lawyers, with clients including the Prince of Wales.
McFarlane concluded: “It is more probable than not that the surveillance of the six phones that I have found was undertaken by Pegasus software was carried out by servants or agents of the father, the Emirate of Dubai or the UAE and that the surveillance occurred with the express or implied authority of the father [Mohammed].”
McFarlane said although Dubai could not be a Pegasus customer, the UAE, where Mohammed is prime minister, could have used the system. He said: “The court is entitled to assume that the father and those acting for him must have the ability to instruct the UAE security services to take action.”
The sheikh had asked the Supreme Court to block the investigation into the hacking claims, which was part of the costliest child custody battle in British legal history. He said the issue was a “foreign act of state” for which the courts did not have jurisdiction. He also said Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia or Jordan could have been behind the hacking.
Haya told the court: “Since July 2020, the pressures on me have dramatically increased. I have felt my health and my strength deteriorate slowly and progressively under the strain of the harassment of me, both through the litigation and otherwise. I feel hunted all the time.”
The princess fled to London with her two children in 2019 after her husband became concerned about her close relationship with her British bodyguard.
Haya said she had been warned by her stepmother, Queen Noor, in February last year that Mohammed was attempting to buy property near her.
The princess had been assured by the sheikh’s lawyers, Harbottle & Lewis, that he would not buy property near her but months later discovered he was buying Parkwood, a £30 million stately home, next to her Surrey mansion.
Mohammed objected to a wide exclusion zone that his former wife was seeking around her home. He said it would make it difficult to visit Windsor Castle and Royal Ascot, where he is regularly seen with the Queen.
The sheikh admitted a trust that was buying properties for use by members of the ruling family and their staff was due to exchange contracts on Parkwood within weeks. He said in a statement: “I have always denied the allegations made against me and I continue to do so. These matters concern supposed operations of state security. As a head of government involved in private family proceedings, it was not appropriate for me to provide evidence on such sensitive matters either personally or via my advisers in a foreign court.”
The Foreign Office said: “It is vital everyone uses cybercapabilities in a way that is legal, responsible and proportionate to ensure cyberspace remains a safe place for everyone and we work closely with our allies to tackle cyberthreats and improve our overall global resilience to attacks.”
A recent visit to the UK by Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, shows “the UK-UAE relationship is strong … and our work to tackle shared global challenges together, such as climate change and prosperity”, it added.
Queen ‘may stop accepting his horses’
The ruling will be greeted with dismay within Buckingham Palace: for years the Queen has had a friendly relationship with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, united by their love of racing, writes Valentine Low. He has ridden with the Queen in her carriage at Royal Ascot and been a regular in the royal enclosure. As the owner of the massive Godolphin horseracing operation, he has for years made gifts of thoroughbreds to the Queen.
Those gifts continued to be accepted as recently as late last year.
After last year’s damning British court judgment that Sheikh Mohammed had organised the abductions of two of his daughters it became clear that the relationship could not continue on the same level as before.
While the Queen was keen to avoid being dragged into the dispute, The Times revealed last year that she would make sure that she would not be placed in a situation where she was likely to be photographed with the sheikh or Princess Haya. But there is a huge difference between not being seen with him in public and shunning him entirely.
During this year’s flat racing season the 39 horses that have run in the Queen’s colours included four given to her by Godolphin. Those horses, which raced as two-year-olds, would have been given to the Queen no earlier than this time last year — several months after the ruling in March 2020.
The sheikh is believed to have given the Queen four yearlings a year since 2009. She also uses his stud services.
Robert Lacey, the royal author who is also an expert on the Arab world, said: “She will presumably have to reconsider her relationship with him. It puts a question mark over accepting any more horses from him.” But he added: “I have not seen the evidence that could translate the Queen’s shared interest with Sheikh Mohammed in racehorses into ‘friendship’ — certainly not close friendship. The Queen has always been careful to make clear that her acquaintance does not extend beyond racing.”
In March John Warren, the Queen’s racing manager, declined to comment.
Dubai is a key intelligence and defence partner of Britain’s in the Gulf. A racing source said previously that if the ruler were to feel slighted he could well “walk off in a huff”. Also, along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE is a lucrative destination for British-made weapons. Post-Brexit the Gulf has been a key market for trade as well as a lucrative source of foreign investment in Britain.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment.
Court finding will put racing establishment rules to the test
There was no more distinguished buyer at Tattersalls’ horse sales yesterday than Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. He shook hands with Willie Carson, the former champion jockey, to purchase another horse for his Godolphin stables in Newmarket, writes David Brown.
Later a series of damning High Court judgments were made public in which the ruler of Dubai was linked to the use of phone-hacking spyware.
He is the leading power in British racing, bankrolling the sport for decades. The High Court finding that on the balance of probabilities he was complicit in the hacking will be a test of racing’s rules on owners’ integrity. The British Horseracing Authority’s rulebook requires that it is satisfied with owners’ “honesty and integrity”. Those whose “conduct, behaviour or character” fall below the standard may be refused registration. The criterion includes “whether the applicant has been the subject of any adverse finding by a judge in any civil proceedings”.
The authority was not able to discuss what happens next. In March, when the sheikh was accused of having imprisoned his daughter Princess Latifa, the authority called it a complex matter “involving an overseas state with strategic ties to the United Kingdom”.
Julie Harrington, its chief executive, said: “We have been in contact with the government to explain our responsibilities as regulator, and to highlight a significant contribution to the industry.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the billionaire ruler of Dubai, targeted the phone of his estranged wife Princess Haya with a military-grade spyware tool during a London court battle over their two children, a High Court judge has found.
Sheikh Mohammed permitted his “servants or agents” to use an Israeli manufactured and commercially sold covert surveillance weapon called Pegasus to target the phones of Princess Haya and her divorce lawyer Baroness Fiona Shackleton, according to a High Court ruling.
Pegasus spyware, the military-grade software licensed by the Israeli company NSO Group, is only supposed to be deployed by sovereign states to prevent terrorism and serious crime, according to the company, and is sold only with approval of the Israeli government. It is licensed to the United Arab Emirates.
But rights groups such as Amnesty International and the Citizen Lab have traced the spyware to the smartphones of dozens of journalists, politicians and human rights activists across the world.
This is the first known ruling by a court in any jurisdiction on the abuse of Pegasus, though the software is the subject of legal action in the US and Israel. The High Court ruling that the spyware was misused to snoop on Princess Haya during a court case about the welfare of their two children is also highly embarrassing for Sheikh Mohammed, the vice-president and prime minister of the UAE. The case is still ongoing and has been largely ignored by UAE media.
Over the past quarter of a century, Sheikh Mohammed has overseen the development of Dubai into the region’s dominant trade, finance and tourism hub. His Godolphin stable is a dominant force in horseracing and he has been a regular fixture alongside Queen Elizabeth in the royal box at Ascot, one of Britain’s most prestigious sporting events.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the High Court’s family division, concluded in a fact-finding ruling, which can now be reported for the first time, that “it is more probable than not” that the phone hacking “was carried out by servants or agents of the father, the Emirate of Dubai or the UAE and that the surveillance occurred with the express or implied authority of the father”.
Sheikh Mohammed “is the probable originator of the hacking” and he is “prepared to use the arm of the State to achieve what he regards as right”, the judge concluded, adding that the royal had “harassed and intimidated” Princess Haya, who is a half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah, even after she fled to England with her two children in 2019.
The High Court noted that Sheikh Mohammed filed no evidence in response to the allegations and he did not confirm or deny that the UAE has or had any contract with NSO for the Pegasus system. His legal team also chose to “float various suggestions” including that other states such as Jordan were responsible for the hacking, according to the ruling. The case has been heard in private but a number of judgments have now been made public.
McFarlane noted in his ruling that Shackleton, Haya’s divorce solicitor, was first tipped off about the phone hacking on August 5 2020 by two separate lawyers — one of whom was Cherie Blair QC, a barrister and the wife of former UK prime minister Tony Blair.
Blair, who advises NSO on human rights issues, had alerted Shackleton, previously divorce lawyer for Prince Charles and Sir Paul McCartney, about the phone hacking after receiving a call from a senior NSO manager.
Blair, who gave a witness statement to the fact-finding hearing, testified that NSO was “very concerned” and “it had come to the attention of NSO that their software may have been misused” to monitor the mobile phones of Shackleton and Haya, according to the ruling.
Blair was never told about the identity of the NSO customer suspected of carrying out surveillance but testified: “I recall asking whether their client was the ‘big state’ or the ‘little state’. The NSO senior manager clarified that it was the ‘little state’, which I took to be the state of Dubai,” according to the judgment.
The emirate of Dubai is one of seven members of the UAE, the capital of which is oil-rich Abu Dhabi. Dubai retains significant autonomy within the federation, including its own security service.
In a December 2020 letter to the court, NSO said it could not disclose its clients but its investigation into the phone hacking recommended that “the contract with the customer should be terminated”, according to the ruling.
An NSO spokesperson on Wednesday said: “Whenever a suspicion of misuse arises, NSO investigates, NSO alerts, NSO terminates,” adding that the company had already cancelled contracts worth $300m with various clients. The company did not fall within the jurisdiction of the UK courts, it said.
In his fact-finding judgment, McFarlane concluded there had been hacking or attempted infiltration by Pegasus of six phones and in the case of Princess Haya’s phone “a very substantial amount of data” had been “covertly extracted”.
Pegasus is designed to mirror a phone’s contents surreptitiously, thus defeating the encryption of apps such as WhatsApp or Signal, and can turn on cameras and microphones to record conversations and track the location of the device.
Bill Marczak, senior research fellow at Citizen Lab, said in this case the targets were members of high society, and while he welcomed the fact that NSO took action he added that it would have been “nice if they afforded that due process to journalists and activists who get hacked all the time using their technology”.
Sheikh Mohammed in a statement denied the allegations. He said that neither Dubai nor the UAE were party to the court proceedings and added: “The findings are therefore inevitably based on an incomplete picture.” He said the findings were also based on evidence “that was not disclosed to me or my advisers” and that “they were made in a manner which was unfair”. Baroness Shackleton, Blair and Princess Haya have declined to comment.
London’s Metropolitan Police said its central specialist crime command had launched a probe last year after it received allegations about the interception of digital devices. Officers investigated for five months and explored all possible lines of inquiry but closed their probe in February 2021 due to “no further investigative opportunities”. It said any new evidence would be reviewed.
LONDON — When the hyper-wealthy ruler of the Middle Eastern emirate of Dubai found himself embroiled in a British court case with the Jordanian princess who was once his wife, he did more than hire top-shelf lawyers.
He also deployed high-tech software purchased from an Israeli company to hack the cellphones of his ex-wife, two of her lawyers and three other associates, according to court documents made public on Wednesday.
One of the lawyers, Fiona Shackleton, a baroness, is a sitting member of the House of Lords — potentially adding friction to the close relationship between Britain and the United Arab Emirates, which includes Dubai.
It appeared to be the first confirmed case of the software, known as Pegasus and sold by the Israel-based NSO Group, being successfully used to hack the phone of a sitting British official, according to Bill Marczak, a researcher at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, who examined the phones mentioned in the case and determined they had been hacked.
NSO Group has come under intense scrutiny in recent months after reports that various governments have used its software to target opponents.
The hacking, which came to light in a civil suit ruling in a London court, added a new wrinkle to an already complicated snarl of Arab royal family conflicts, diplomacy and the world of highly secretive companies that sell expensive hacking technologies to governments around the world, which can use them as they see fit.
NSO Group says it sells its products to governments for use in law enforcement and counterterrorism. Technology researchers have surfaced many other cases of such technologies being used by oppressive governments not to go after criminals, but to track political dissidents, human rights activists and journalists.
In an emailed statement, NSO Group said: “Whenever a suspicion of a misuse arises, NSO investigates, NSO alerts, NSO terminates.”
The company said it is committed to human rights and cooperated with the court, even though it did not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.
An email seeking comment from the Dubai Media Office did not receive a response.
The legal battle, which continues, pits the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, against his ex-wife, Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, of Jordan, over the custody of their two children after she fled with them to London in 2019.
Sheikh Mohammed’s representatives have denied that the women are being held against their will.
In the judgment in the British civil court case, which was handed down in May but made public on Wednesday, a judge ruled that surveillance had been carried out by agents of Sheikh Mohammed using software licensed to the Emirate of Dubai or the United Arab Emirates. Also subjected to “unlawful surveillance” were Princess Haya’s personal assistant and two of her security staff, the court said.
In statements to the court, Sheikh Mohammed denied having known about or authorized the hacking of the phones and charged that the court did not have jurisdiction to rule on the actions of a sovereign state. The court disagreed.
The same court had earlier ruled that Sheikh Mohammed had imprisoned his daughters with Princess Haya and threatened another of his wives, though he is unlikely to face legal consequences.
Even before fleeing to London, Princess Haya, who is a daughter of Jordan’s previous king, Hussein, was a well-known figure in British high society. She was educated at British private schools, represented Jordan as a show jumper at the 2000 Olympics and was reported to be friendly with Queen Elizabeth II.
In addition to Baroness Shackleton, another of Princess Haya’s lawyers, Nicholas Manners, was targeted by the hacking. Princess Haya’s phone was found to have been hacked a number of times last year with Sheikh Mohammed’s “express or implied authority,” the judgment said.
Baroness Shackleton was tipped off to the hacking by Cherie Blair, the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who works as a business and human rights adviser to NSO, the court said.
A senior NSO manager had called Ms. Blair to tell her the company was worried that its software had been “misused” to monitor the phones of Baroness Shackleton and Princess Haya, the court said. The company told her it had made sure the software could no longer be used on their phones and asked Ms. Blair to contact the baroness.
Princess Haya’s flight to London in 2019 followed attempts by two daughters of Sheikh Mohammed from another marriage, Sheikha Latifa and Sheikha Shamsa, to flee their father’s custody. Both were eventually captured.
Sheikha Latifa was seized by armed commandos from a yacht in the Indian Ocean; Sheikha Shamsa was kidnapped off the street in Cambridge and flown back to Dubai. Advocates for the women say they are still being held against their will, claims that have tarnished the reputation of their powerful father.
Sheika Latifa’s whereabouts and circumstances remain unclear. Though she appeared in a video earlier this year saying she was being held prisoner by her father, subsequent photos appeared on social media that showed her in Iceland, at the Madrid airport and at a shopping mall in Dubai. A cousin told the Free Latifa campaign, a group that had worked to publicize her case, that he had met her in Iceland.
Yet the princess has not spoken publicly herself, raising doubts about whether she is acting of her own free will.