Dubai ruler oversaw threats to wife and abduction of daughters, court rules

Legal rulings reveal campaign of intimidation by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum

Jane Croft and Andrew England
March 5, 2020, Financial Times

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the billionaire ruler of Dubai, orchestrated a campaign “aimed at intimidating and frightening” his former wife Princess Haya that included leaving a gun on her bed on two occasions, London’s High Court has ruled.

The court, which is hearing a case concerning the welfare of their two children, accepted evidence from Princess Haya that she had been left “terrified” with no option but to flee from Dubai with the children last April.

The ruling also found that Sheikh Mohammed, who is deputy president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, had previously “ordered and orchestrated” the abduction of two of his daughters from a previous marriage: Sheikha Shamsa, who was taken from the UK in 2000 and Sheikha Latifa, who tried to flee Dubai by yacht two years ago but was returned to the UAE after the boat was boarded by Indian commandos.

The High Court ruling, which was published on Thursday, is highly embarrassing for Sheikh Mohammed, 70, who has overseen the development of Dubai into the region’s dominant trade, finance and tourism hub. Sheikh Mohammed had previously lost a high-profile appeal to prevent the details of the proceedings from being released.

In a statement, Sheikh Mohammed said the findings were one-sided and asked for the public to respect his children’s privacy.

“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 tells only one side of the story,” he said.

Princess Haya, who graduated from Oxford university and is half-sister to Jordan’s King Abdullah, was his sixth wife. Sheikh Mohammed divorced her in February last year and the two children have been made wards of court in the UK, meaning a judge must approve decisions regarding their care.

Andrew McFarlane, who is president of the High Court’s family division, said after hearing Princess Haya’s allegations that they were “largely proved on the balance of probabilities”.

“The father has therefore acted in a manner from the end of 2018 which has been aimed at intimidating and frightening the mother, and that he has encouraged others to do so on his behalf,” the ruling said.

Princess Haya told the court that she experienced a “more hostile climate” from Sheikh Mohammed from early 2019 after she had an affair with one of her bodyguards. At that time, she also sought to involve herself in “matters related to” Sheikhas Shamsa and Latifa, who have long been at the centre of allegations that they were mistreated by their father.

Incidents of intimidation against Princess Haya included a gun being put on her bed on at least two occasions with the safety catch off, according to the ruling. Anonymous, threatening notes were also left in her bedroom, including one that read: “We will take your son — your daughter is ours — your life is over.”

Princess Haya also claimed that in March last year one of Sheikh Mohammed’s helicopters landed outside her home when she was with her two children, aged seven and 12, after which the pilot told her he had come to take one passenger to Awir, Dubai’s main prison, the ruling said.

“Bubba is angry with Momma. He is going to send her to the jail in Awir; that’s all there is there,” a security guard told one of her children.

The princess described the incident as “one of the longest and most frightening days I ever remember living”.

According to the ruling, Sheikh Mohammed confirmed a helicopter landed at the property but said it was “simply a mistake”.

The High Court’s Sir Andrew said he found “that the cumulative effect of each of these episodes was to place the mother in a position of great fear leading her to conclude that she had no option but to leave Dubai with the children”.

However, Sir Andrew said he did not accept an allegation made by Princess Haya that Sheikh Mohammed or his agents had sought to arrange for her daughter, then 11, to be married to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Princess Haya had applied to the High Court for a forced marriage protection order in respect of her daughter and for a non-molestation order “for her own protection”.

The judge said he also accepted evidence from Princess Haya that Sheikh Mohammed ordered the unlawful abduction of Sheikha Shamsa from the UK in 2002.

Sheikh Mohammed, who did not attend court to participate in the fact-finding hearing, said in his witness statement that he and Shamsa’s mother “jointly decided to organise a search for her [in the UK]. When she was found, I remember our feeling of overwhelming relief that she was safe”.

Regarding the return of Sheikha Latifa to Dubai in 2018 after an attempted escape, Sir Andrew concluded he felt “confident” relying on what she had said about the incident in a video released on YouTube at the time.

Friends of Sheikha Lafita have said she was seized off the coast of Goa by Indian and Emirati forces while trying to escape in March 2018 and forcibly returned to Dubai.

Sheikh Mohammed did not contest the details in his witness statement, but said: “We feared that our daughter was in the hands of a criminal who might hold her to ransom and harm her. To this day I consider that Latifa’s return to Dubai was a rescue mission.”

Neither Sheikha Shamsa or Sheikha Latifa have been involved in the trial. Sir Andrew said he did not accept that the sisters, who live in family accommodation in Dubai, were given a “free choice about engaging in the court process”.

“I have found that the father acted as he did with respect to Shamsa and Latifa and I have found that he continues to maintain a regime whereby both of these two young women are deprived of their liberty, albeit within family accommodation in Dubai,” Sir Andrew said.