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 ruled.
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 ruling lifted a secrecy order over details of the custody battle for his two children.
Tony Blair’s government has been accused of interfering in the police investigation into the kidnapping in Cambridge of one of the sheikh’s daughters — not involved in the custody battle — who has been held in captivity by her father for 20 years.
Sheikh Mohammed, 70, has 25 children and is the prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates. His former wife, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, is the mother of his two youngest children.
Sheikh Mohammed started action in the family division of the High Court in May last year to secure the return of his daughter, Jalila, now 12, and son Zayed, now seven, to Dubai. The fact-finding judgment will be used to decide the future welfare of the children.
Princess Haya, 45, a sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan, claims she feared the sheikh was negotiating to marry their then 11-year-old daughter to the ruler of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman.
She escaped to Britain in April last year and now lives under intense security at her £75 million mansion in west London.
The Times revealed last year that the princess had fled after the sheikh became concerned by her closeness to her British bodyguard. A source said she had lavished gifts on the married former British Army officer who accompanied the Dubai royal family on trips around the world.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, said in his judgment released today: “At some stage in 2017-18 the mother embarked upon an adulterous relationship with one of her male bodyguards. Although, it seems, the father was probably aware of this for some time, matters did not come to a head until January 2019.”
The princess said she feared for her life after the sheikh published poems which she claimed contained deliberate threats, and footage of him performing a traditional Bedouin victory dance over his enemies was uploaded to the internet.
A series of anonymous notes were left in her bedroom, with one warning: “We will take your son — your daughter is ours — your life is over,” she claimed. She twice found a gun left on her bed with the muzzle pointing towards the door and the safety catch off and claimed a helicopter was sent to her palace to take her to a prison in the desert, she told the court.
Princess Haya says she believes the sheikh will order the kidnapping of their children like two of their older half-sisters who tried to escape his control.
“It is not just him I am worried about, it is some of the people around him,” she told the court. “I know how they operate. I have seen some of what has happened to their [her children’s] sisters.”
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.
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.
Princess Shamsa said she was abducted by four armed men and taken to her father’s 3,300-acre Dalham Hall estate in Suffolk, which includes his celebrated Godolphin racing stables. The next morning she was injected and forced to take tablets before being taken by her father’s helicopter out of the country and then on to Dubai, she told police.
Mohammed al Shaibani, the current director-general of the Ruler’s Court in Dubai, told Cambridgeshire police that he had travelled with three men from London to Newmarket on the day Shamsa claimed she was kidnapped. One of the men was the head of Dubai’s Air Wing which provides aircraft for the royal family. Mr al Shaibani said that he then took a helicopter flight to Deauville in France with a woman he later identified as Princess Shamsa.
Detective Chief Inspector David Beck told the court that he was refused permission by the Crown Prosecution Service to visit Dubai to interview potential witnesses.
Princess Haya claimed that Sheikh Mohammed or those acting on his behalf “made representations to the United Kingdom authorities designed to bring an end to the investigation”.
Charles Geekie, QC, representing her, told the court there is 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.”
The FCO refused to release details to the court about its knowledge of Shamsa’s kidnapping because it would “increase public knowledge about our relations with UAE”. A spokesman added: “Disclosure of this information 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 said: “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 abducted the princesses were proved. He said 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 judge said Princess Haya’s belief that her former husband was intending to forcibly marry one of their children to the ruler of Saudi Arabia was based on multiple hearsay evidence so was not proved.
In a separate judgment, Sir Andrew found that assurances provided by Sheikh Mohammed and the state of the UAE waiving his immunity in relation to these proceedings “failed to afford the children any significant level of protection from the risk of abduction within England and Wales”.
Princess Haya supported the publication of the Sir Andrew’s findings of fact, saying: “People think that I have wronged the children and wronged Sheikh Mohammed. “The public narrative is of me leaving Dubai with the children, taking Sheikh Mohammed’s money following an affair. People do not want to be associated with us. I have not been able to protect fully the children or defend myself against the lurid reporting and character assassination.”
Sheikh Mohammed said in a statement that 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 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.
A Cambridgeshire police spokeswoman said an investigation into the alleged abduction of Shamsa had opened in 2000 but “with the evidence that was available to us this was insufficient to take any further action”.
“A review took place in 2017 and it was again concluded there was insufficient evidence to take any further action,” she added. “This is no longer an active investigation and we are not in contact with the victim.”