The billionaire ruler of Dubai kidnapped two of his daughters and left the youngest of his six wives in fear of her life after discovering her affair with a bodyguard, a senior judge has found.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, a friend of the Queen, may have broken UK and international criminal law, according to the ruling, which could cause significant diplomatic difficulties with Britain’s allies in the Middle East.
Extraordinary claims about some of the region’s most powerful families were revealed after the Supreme Court lifted a secrecy order over details of the custody battle for the two children and allowed the ruling to be published.
Sheikh Mohammed, 70, has 25 children and is the prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates. He was accused in court of having used “the state and its apparatus to threaten, intimidate, mistreat and oppress with a total disregard for the rule of law”.
Tony Blair’s government was accused of interfering in the police investigation into the kidnapping in Britain of one of the sheikh’s daughters, who has since been held in captivity by her father for 20 years.
The court battle began after the ruler’s former wife, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, fled to her £75 million mansion in west London with his two youngest children last year.
The Times revealed last year that the sheikh had became concerned at her closeness to her bodyguard, a married former British Army officer who was later named as Russell Flowers, 36.
Sheikh Mohammed started action in the family division of the High Court to secure the return of his daughter, Jalila, now 12, and son Zayed, seven, to Dubai. Princess Haya, 45, a half-sister of King Abdullah of Jordan, opposed their return and said she feared that the sheikh was negotiating to marry Jalila to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. She said she was worried that Sheikh Mohammed would order the kidnapping of their children as he had two of their older half-sisters who tried to escape his control.
Princess Latifa, 34, was initially abducted on her father’s orders after running away in 2002 and then was seized from a yacht in the Indian Ocean while fleeing Dubai in 2018, the court was told. After the first kidnapping she claimed that she had been tortured repeatedly. Princess Shamsa was 19 when she was snatched from a street in Cambridge in August 2000 after she fled her father’s Surrey estate.
Robin Cook, the foreign secretary at the time of Shamsa’s disappearance, asked to be kept informed of progress in the police investigation before the detective in charge was blocked from continuing the case, the court was told.
Charles Geekie, QC, representing Princess Haya, told the court that there was evidence of “interference” in the police inquiry. “The Foreign & Commonwealth Office [FCO] was fully engaged with interest from the foreign secretary [before] permission to pursue the investigation was refused,” he said.
The FCO refused to release details to the court about its knowledge of Shamsa’s kidnapping because it would “reduce the UK government’s ability to protect and promote UK interests through its relations with UAE, which would not be in the public interest.”
Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, said in his ruling: “The allegations that the father ordered and orchestrated the kidnap and rendition to Dubai of his daughters Shamsa and Latifa are of a very high order of seriousness. They may well involve findings, albeit on the civil standard, of behaviour which is contrary to the criminal law of England and Wales, international law, international maritime law and internationally accepted human rights norms.”
Sir Andrew found the allegations that the sheikh had “orchestrated” the princesses’ abduction were proved. He said that Sheikh Mohammed had conducted a “campaign of fear and intimidation” against his former wife.
The civil standard requires the evidence to be proved on the balance of probabilities rather than “beyond reasonable doubt” which is needed for a guilty verdict in UK criminal prosecutions. The judgment will be used to decide the future welfare of the children.
Sheikh Mohammed said the loss of his appeal against the judgment being published meant his children were not protected from media attention in the same way as others involved in family court hearings. “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.