New photo shows missing Dubai princess with friends

Louise Callaghan, The Sunday Times
May 23, 2021

A Middle Eastern princess kidnapped at sea while trying to escape her powerful billionaire father has appeared in a photograph sitting outside a cinema in a Dubai mall with her friends.

Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum — daughter of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum — claimed in videos shared with the media in February that she was being held captive after a foiled escape attempt.

Since then, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been under increasing pressure to show that Latifa is still alive. The sheikh is its prime minister and vice-president. The United Nations demanded concrete proof of life, which the UAE said it would provide.

The photograph appears to have been taken outside Vox cinema in Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates. A close friend of the princess confirmed that she is in the picture. It shows her alongside two women — who both later posted the picture online — sitting at a café table. A sign behind them advertises a film that came to Dubai cinemas on May 13.

Both women in the picture have known Latifa for more than a decade. One of them, Sioned Taylor, is a British maths teacher, Ironman coach and long-time Dubai expat. The other, Lynda Bouchiki, is a French Algerian events manager who is understood to work for, or have worked for, the Dubai royal family.

Three years ago, Latifa made a dramatic bid for freedom alongside Tiina Jauhiainen, her capoeira (martial arts) teacher and friend. The women, along with another accomplice, escaped Dubai on a yacht, but were caught — allegedly by a team of Emirati commandos — while off the coast of India.

In a video published after the escape failed, Latifa claimed to have been imprisoned and abused on the orders of her father following a previous attempt to run away.

“I haven’t left the country since 2000. I’ve been asking a lot to just go travelling, to study, to do anything normal. They don’t let me,” she said in the video. Latifa claimed that her sister Shamsa, who allegedly escaped from the family’s Surrey estate in 2000 before being recaptured and sent back to Dubai, had been drugged and imprisoned.

Latifa’s father is a prominent racehorse owner who has made gifts of horses to the Queen. His youngest wife, Princess Haya, fled to London with their children in 2019. Last year, Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, ruled that the sheikh had conducted a “campaign of fear and intimidation” against Haya and that allegations that he had “orchestrated” the abduction of Latifa and Shamsa were proved.

In videos published in February this year, Latifa expressed fears that she might be killed. Seven officers stood guard over her makeshift prison inside a villa in Dubai, she said.

“Every day, I’m worried about my safety in my life. I don’t really know if I’m going to survive this situation,” she said, according to a transcript. “The police threaten me that they would take me outside and shoot me if I didn’t co-operate with them. They also threatened me that I would be in prison my whole life and I’ll never see the sun again.”