FBI ‘duped into helping sheikh seize daughter in yacht raid’

David Brown, The Times
July 8, 2021

The FBI was tricked into helping the ruler of Dubai abduct his daughter from a yacht as she tried to escape his control, it has been claimed.

Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum was seized by Indian army commandos off the coast of Goa in March 2018.

She claimed to have been held prisoner by her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, in a “villa jail” in Dubai before apparently being freed last month.

An investigation by USA Today claimed that the FBI handed over details of the location of the US-flagged yacht Nostromo from satellite data gleaned from its internet access after the sheikh claimed that his daughter had been kidnapped.

The agency faces questions of whether it acted unlawfully and within its own protocols, the newspaper reported.

A British judge ruled last year that Mohammed, 71, had abducted Latifa, 35, and her sister Shamsa, 39, who disappeared in Cambridge in 2000.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, made the ruling after the sheikh started legal action when the youngest of his six wives, Princess Haya bint Al Hussein of Jordan, 47, fled to London with their two young children.

Mohammed, who is prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, has said that he was protecting Latifa and Shamsa and described the incident on the yacht as a “rescue mission”. Latifa claimed to have tried to escape Dubai in 2002, which led to her being jailed for three years.

USA Today said that the FBI had not sought a subpoena to locate the yacht before agents contacted the internet provider and said that they needed help because of a public safety emergency.

“The FBI truly believed this was a kidnapping case and the US was saving the day,” a person with knowledge of the operation told the newspaper.

The captain of the yacht, Hervé Jaubert, a former French navy intelligence officer, had insisted on a communications blackout so the vessel could not be tracked. Latifa ignored the command and communicated by email and WhatsApp and posted Instagram messages using the yacht’s satellite internet provider which left a digital footprint.

Mohammed’s office allegedly contacted an FBI agent stationed in the US consulate in Dubai claiming Latifa had been kidnapped and there was a ransom demand. The agent was allegedly first told a subpoena was required but the company agreed to release the information after the FBI agent insisted that it was a hostage who was the daughter of the leader of a close American ally in the Middle East.

“Latifa’s fatal mistake was she checked her email,” one of the people familiar with the operation told USA Today. “That was the breakthrough. It was cross-checked with other information and databases in the area, and the Emiratis were able to figure out precisely which boat she was on, and where that boat was located.”

A UN panel ruled in February that Indian commandos had carried out the raid in return for a wanted British arms dealer being held in Dubai.

Weeks after the operation on the yacht Christian Michel, 59, was extradited from Dubai to Delhi where he is accused of paying bribes to help Agusta Westland, the helicopter manufacturer in Yeovil, Somerset, win a $500 million contract. Mohammed’s British lawyers declined to comment.