Dubai: Princess Haya’s flight to UK threatens diplomatic crisis

Wife of sheikh is said to fear kidnap after disappearances of other female royals

Owen Bowcott, Mark Hollingsworth, Bethan McKernan
July 6, 2019, The Guardian

Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya at Royal Ascot in 2012.

Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein’s flight to Britain is threatening to provoke a diplomatic crisis as her husband, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and a key UK ally in the Gulf, faces mounting criticism over his family’s treatment of women.

The 45-year-old, a half-sister of the king of Jordan, is understood to be living in London in fear of kidnap following the alleged abductions of several close relatives.

The most notorious disappearance involved the 33-year-old Princess Latifa, Sheikh Mohammed’s daughter, who allegedly escaped Dubai before being seized off the coast of India by commandos last year and forcibly returned home. Emirati authorities dismissed the claims at the time as fiction.

In 2000, another of the sheikh’s daughters, Princess Shamsa, fled from her father’s estate near Chobham, Surrey. She was last seen in August that year on the streets of Cambridge from where she was reportedly abducted by the sheikh’s staff. Cambridgeshire police investigated the incident.

Princess Haya is said to have decided to flee Dubai after learning the full details of what happened to Latifa. On Thursday night, the BBC screened a repeat of a documentary, Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess, exploring Latifa’s fate.

A 69-year-old billionaire and racehorse owner, Sheikh Mohammed was last seen speaking to the Queen at Royal Ascot in June. Princess Haya, a keen equestrian, unusually did not appear at this year’s event.

The Queen with Sheikh Mohammed at Royal Ascot last month.

In her attempt to seek asylum in the UK, Princess Haya may be able to claim diplomatic immunity as a further layer of protection. Although she does not appear as an accredited official on the latest London diplomatic list, published early last month, she was previously registered as a Jordanian official.

Between 2011 and 2013, she was listed as Princess Haya Al-Hussein, first secretary (cultural affairs). There are suggestions she has recently been re-accredited at the Jordanian embassy. The embassy could not be contacted for comment.

Princess Haya is believed to be living in her high-security home near Kensington Palace in central London, which she bought for £85m in 2017 from the billionaire Lakshmi Mittal. She has since renovated the property which is on a private street that is home to ambassadorial residences and the super-rich.

She is believed to be under the protection of a private security firm though there are suggestions that, because of her fears of being kidnapped, a formal request has been made for police protection. Scotland Yard said it did not comment on security details.

Quest, a UK private security company owned and chaired by John Stevens, a former commissioner of the Metropolitan police, has provided security and intelligence advice to Princess Haya for many years.

Last year Sir Mark Rowley, the former head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard, became a non-executive director of Quest after leaving the Metropolitan police. It is understood senior executives at the firm are aware of the crisis facing one of their most lucrative clients.

Quest first worked with Princess Haya in 2010, when it helped her in her role as president of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) to set up the clean sport initiatives that formed the central plank of her FEI election manifesto.

The firm was also commissioned by Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya to conduct an investigation into the doping of horses at the Sheikh’s Godolphin stable, which was a major scandal in horse racing in 2013-14.

It is not clear whether the princess will formally be seeking a divorce from Sheikh Mohammed. She is thought to be his sixth wife.

There is a high court case involving the couple, as revealed by the Guardian this week, but the next hearing is not due to take place until 30 July.

Princess Haya is represented by Fiona Shackleton QC, who represented Prince Charles during his divorce from Princess Diana. Shackleton’s firm, Payne Hicks Beach, declined to comment.

Haya is known to be close to the British royal family. She has been pictured frequently with the Queen and Prince Charles.

The sheikh is represented by Helen Ward QC, of Stewarts Law, who has previously represented Andrew Lloyd Webber, Paloma Picasso, Guy Ritchie, Bernie Ecclestone and the Countess Spencer.

Radha Stirling, the founder and chief executive of Detained in Dubai, which supports victims of miscarriages of justice in the Gulf state, has written to Lady Shackleton offering to give expert testimony about how the justice system in the United Arab Emirates treats suspects and deals with domestic abuse.

Stirling last year raised the case of Princess Shamsa’s apparent abduction with Cambridgeshire police, asking them to reopen their investigation into her disappearance.

Stirling has also suggested a UK court could request evidence about Princess Latifa’s alleged kidnap from a yacht in the Indian Ocean and the role played by the royal family in her enforced return. Latifa herself, Stirling has suggested, could be called to testify.

News of Haya’s flight has thrown up a whirlwind of speculation. Initial reports suggested she had escaped to Germany, where she is understood to own property.

A poem, said to have been written by her aggrieved husband, appeared online accusing an unidentified woman of treason and betrayal.

The ramifications of her situation have spread around the world. The UK is a close ally of the UAE, which is heavily involved in the war in Yemen alongside Saudi Arabia. Last month the court of appeal ruled that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia were unlawful.

The Foreign Office in London has declined to comment on the marriage break-up, viewing it as a private matter. There have been claims that the Dubai royal family approached the UK government for help in seeking Haya’s return. The UAE government has denied making any approaches.

The fallout is likely to embitter relations between Jordan and the UAE. In Ireland, the former president Mary Robinson has faced questions over her visit to Dubai last December, at Haya’s request, where she was photographed meeting Latifa.

Speaking to reporters at a trades union conference in Dublin on Wednesday, Robinson said: “I really have nothing more to say about that. I have never been friends, except with Princess Haya, one friend, who is still my friend.”

Sheikh Mohammed’s spokesperson declined to comment on the allegations that Princess Haya had fled to the UK, or any other aspect of the case.