Powerful video from the kidnapped princess exposes the murky underside to UAE glitz, writes Liam Collins
His finely spun web has entangled the former Irish president, Mary Robinson, his estranged wife Princess Haya and the blue-bloods of the Irish Turf who tapped him for more than €5m for the redevelopment of the Curragh Racecourse.
Dubai, his middle-eastern emirate, also harbours Christy Kinahan, head of the notorious drugs cartel. And it is where Kinahan’s equally ruthless son Daniel seeks to reinvent himself as a boxing promoter and gym owner, pictured last week in opulent surroundings with US promoter Peter Kahn.
“Dubai is a family-run business that happens to have an embassy in Dublin,” says one observer of the ‘city state’ and its ruler. “We should be really talking to them about harbouring the Kinahans, who have wreaked havoc on Dublin and beyond.”
But Ireland does not have an extradition treaty with Dubai, which is one of the reasons the Kinahans left Spain.
It is for other reasons that the spotlight of international attention has turned its unwelcome gaze towards Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (71), ruler of Dubai and vice president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The ill-treatment of Princess Latifa, one of his 25 children, has also left one of Ireland’s few international figures, Mary Robinson, looking very careless in her choice of friends.
The incarceration of Latifa (35) simply because she didn’t want to be part of the family “firm”, and her abortive flight to freedom across the Indian Ocean, only to be “grabbed” by Indian commandos and returned to Dubai where she has since been kept in a “gilded cage”, is the stuff of an international thriller.
Since then friends managed to smuggle a phone to her, where she described being taken from her posh “prison” for a bizarre lunch with human rights advocate Mary Robinson in 2018.
“The topics that we discussed during the lunch were sport, veganism, the environment and nothing outside of that, and Mary kept talking about her book as well,” said the princess in a recorded conversation broadcast last week.
After the lunch, Mrs Robinson made a public statement saying the princess was “a likeable young woman but clearly troubled, clearly needs the medical care that she is receiving” and her family, “did not want her to endure any more publicity”. Now she accepts that she was “tricked”.
As Princess Latifa’s phone has now gone silent, her friends enlisted the BBC Panorama programme to broadcast prior dispatches from her that should make for uncomfortable viewing for Sheikh Mohammed’s many associates in the world of horse-racing, at home and abroad.
As ruler he has taken the tiny desert state and weaned it off its oil riches by creating the metropolis of Dubai, with its soaring skyscrapers, opulent hotels, palm islands and its gold-plated lifestyle for the rich, the famous and the criminal.
Trim, with a hawk-like appearance, Sheikh Mohammed has been a familiar figure at the Curragh, near his principal Irish residence, the 1,500-acre Kildangan Stud in Co Kildare. As well as outlying stud farms, he owns Woodpark Stud near Dunboyne, Co Meath (now called Grough), and Ballysheehan Stud in Tipperary (renamed Altiva).
According to a recent filing in the Companies Office in Dublin, his holding company, Godolphin Ireland Ltd, has assets of €115m here and liabilities of €250m. The €200,000 he earned from the EU’s single farm payment in 2018 will hardly put a dent in that, but debts of €250m are a mere trifle to a man whose wealth is conservatively put at €14bn and rising.
Before their relationship went sour, his racing colours carried the name of the youngest of his six wives, Princess Haya (46), a daughter of King Hussein of Jordan. As a glamorous 22-year-old, the princess learned her horse-riding skills at Paul Darragh’s show-jumping arena in Tara, Co Meath, and competed in the Dublin Horse Show at the RDS.
But since that infamous lunch to which she invited Mary Robinson, Princess Haya has also defected from Sheikh Mohammed’s household, fleeing to London with their two children where she has made damaging allegations about her powerful husband in the family courts.
Judge Sir Andrew McFarlane found that as well as Latifa, the sheikh kidnapped another daughter, Princess Shamsa, then 19, who disappeared from Cambridge back in 2000. What happened to Shamsa only became public when Princess Haya, (46), resisted the sheikh’s attempts to get custody of the children.
Princess Haya, who had an affair with a bodyguard as the couple’s relationship deteriorated, claims her husband was trying to marry their teenage daughter off to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Al Saud.
Sheikh Mohammed’s behaviour demonstrated “a consistent course of conduct over two decades where, if he deems it necessary to do so (he) will use the very substantial powers at his disposal to achieve his particular aims”, said the judge.
The kidnapping of his two daughters and the harbouring of criminals like the Kinahans has focused attention on the Emirate ruler’s worldwide Godolphin international horse-breeding and racing operation. He bought the famous Kildangan Stud from the More O’Ferrell family in 1986. Godolphin Ireland Ltd, which employs 237 people, reported a loss of €10.7m in 2019.
This formidable bloodstock enterprise has only one real rival – Coolmore Stud Farms, based in Tipperary and run by the equally enigmatic John Magnier. Neither magnate has explained why Sheikh Mohammed stopped buying Coolmore-bred yearlings in 2005, a boycott that lasted until 2017, when he paid €1.2m at Goffs for a Galileo foal.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights now plans to raise the case of Princess Latifa with the UAE as publicity surrounding the case has dented the sheikh’s image. Closer to home, the activities of the Kinahans in Dubai have caused equal concern.
In a letter to the UAE’s embassy in Dublin two weeks ago, Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond told the ambassador: “It is the belief of many that Mr Kinahan relocated to Dubai and founded MTK in order to whitewash his reputation and portray himself as a legitimate businessman, which is very concerning given the misery the Kinahan cartel has caused in Ireland. After years of co-ordinating chaos, violence and even death in Ireland, Mr Kinahan should not be allowed to build a new reputation for himself abroad through sport.”
He then asked if the UAE government was aware of Kinahan’s reputation “and happy to allow him to continue his efforts in your country”. As yet, he hasn’t had a reply.
Yesterday the Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that the Government here plans to “engage” with Mary Robinson regarding the disappearance of Princess Latifa.
But maybe he’s looking to the wrong person? Surely he should be talking to Sheikh Mohammed or the UAE embassy – not just about the princess, but about why his state is harbouring the Kinahans.
Despite its glamorous status, Dubai is a feudal state controlled by the autocratic Sheikh Mohammed and the wider Maktoum family. The question is, how long can they continue to have it both ways?