Dubai ruler abducted and imprisoned his princess daughters, UK court rules

Kim Hjelmgaard
March 6, 2020, USA TODAY

The billionaire ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, orchestrated the abductions, torture and imprisonment of two of his princess daughters, according to documents unsealed this week by a British judge. 

High Court Judge Andrew McFarlane’s ruling was part of a “fact-finding” judgment connected to a separate ongoing child custody case between Sheikh Mohammed and his estranged ex-wife, Princess Haya Bint Al-Hussein. 

Dubai’s leader, 70, launched legal action in Britain in May last year against Princess Haya, 45, seeking the return of their two small children to Dubai. Princess Haya, who is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, is Sheikh Mohammed’s sixth wife. She wants their children, 12 and 8, to stay in Britain, where she was educated and has close ties, over fears they could be harmed if returned to Dubai. Princess Haya’s lawyers argued Sheikh Mohammed’s treatment of his two older daughters showed her children were at risk of being abducted too.

The ruling does not amount to a criminal charge.

Instead, Thursday’s ruling relates to events surrounding the disappearances of two of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughters from a previous marriage: Princess Shamsa, who vanished from the streets of Cambridge in 2000, when she was 19; and Princess Latifa, who planned her escape from Dubai’s ruling family for seven years, running away from what she said was her father’s oppressive and cruel treatment.

Princess Latifa was seized by Indian army commandos in 2018 in the Indian Ocean and returned to Dubai, when she was 32. She sought to flee the city-state on a private sailing yacht captained by a former French intelligence officer. Her plight, which almost defies belief, was highlighted by USA TODAY and other media.

Princess Latifa tried to flee Dubai:She left a video to prove it

Sheikh Mohammed attempted to keep McFarlane’s judgement out of the public domain. But his appeal was rejected after the court ruled it to be in the public interest. McFarlane found that Princess Haya’s allegations about the threats she and her children faced from Sheikh Mohammed were credible because of the abductions and disappearances of Princess Shamsa and Princess Latifa. The former has not been seen in public for 20 years and shortly before she herself was returned to Dubai, Princess Latifa claimed in a video published on YouTube that her sister was being drugged. Princess Latifa has only appeared in public once since her abduction. She appeared dazed and confused. 

After the ruling, Sheikh Mohammed said in a statement that “as a head of government, I was not able to participate in the court’s fact-finding process. This has resulted in the release of a fact-finding judgment which inevitably only tells one side of the story.” He asked media to respect his children’s privacy. 

Sheikh Mohammed, who has been Dubai’s leader since 2006, has an estimated wealth of $4 billion, according to Forbes, making him one of richest royals in the world. He is a major figure in horse racing and breeding and owns and operates two horse farms in Kentucky. Last year, he received a trophy from Queen Elizabeth II after one of his horses won a race at Royal Ascot.

He has an estimated 30 children with his six wives.

Princess Haya:Dubai ruler’s wife, in hiding in London

Sheikh Mohammed is also prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.

He has portrayed his emirate as enlightened and Western-friendly.

One example: Dubai’s DAMAC Properties owns and operates the only Trump-branded golf club in the Middle East. Dubai has world-class infrastructure, luxury shopping malls, a skyscraper-filled skyline and a large expatriate population.

It also has a poor human rights record. 

Laws in the United Arab Emirates prioritizes men when it comes to marriage, divorce and custody of children. It still permits domestic violence. Princess Latifa wasn’t allowed to travel and study outside Dubai. A minder or male guardian trailed her everywhere. Princess Haya has been in hiding with her children in London for months. McFarlane noted in his ruling that while Sheikh Mohammed had denied all the allegations, his accounts relating to Princess Shamsa and Princess Latifa revealed that “he has not been open and honest with the court.”

Sheikh Mohammed did not attend the proceedings. His ex-wife did.

“I have seen what has happened to their sisters and I can’t face the fact that the same might happen to them,” Princess Haya told the court.

Princess Haya told the court her ex-husband tried to have her abducted by helicopter, that he left loaded guns without the safety on, on her bedroom pillows, and that he published a poem, directed at her, titled “You Lived and Died.”

Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish citizen who helped Princess Latifa hatch her failed escape plan and has since been fighting for her release, said in a WhatsApp message Friday she was “relived and happy” details about her friend’s case could be reported on but also “saddened” because, while the court concluded Princess Latifa was unlawfully kidnapped, “she is still being held against her will.” 

Still, Radha Stirling, a London-based human rights advocate, described McFarlane’s ruling as “vindication for all of us who have fought to expose the truth about the illegal abductions of Princess Shamsa and Princess Latifa.” Stirling was speaking to Princess Latifa by phone as the boat she was traveling on was stormed by Indian commandoes. She was the last person to do so.