Police are investigating allegations that the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, one of the world’s richest Arab leaders, and a horse racing friend of the Queen, was kidnapped and returned to Dubai from the UK by members of her father’s staff.
The investigation was sparked by a telephoned plea for help from Dubai to a British solicitor who had dealt with the 19-year-old woman when she went to him for assistance in getting student status on her visa. She claimed to be Sheikha Shamsa, daughter of the influential Crown Prince of Dubai, whose British base is in Newmarket.
Sources with knowledge of the case say the police were alerted by the lawyer at the girl’s request. She alleged that she was picked up in the street in Cambridge by a group of Sheikh Mohammed’s staff from Dubai. Within 24 hours, she said, she had been put on a private jet and flown back to Dubai.
The police are trying to establish whether the caller was genuine and the events took place as described. It is not clear whether any criminal offence has been committed.
Officers have tried to interview members of Sheikh Mohammed’s Newmarket staff but have had difficulty getting to them.
After the initial report, the woman was able to have a number of direct telephone conversations from Dubai with investigating officers. She claimed that she had been prevented from leaving the country since her return.
The police are understood to have obtained details of a hotel booking from the Cambridge area on the night in question, and a flight plan.
They have refused to comment on the details of the case, but in a statement to the Guardian a spokeswoman said: “Cambridge detectives are investigating an allegation that a 19-year-old woman staying in the Cambridge area in August 2000 was taken against her will by a number of people to the Middle East, her home country.
“The allegation was initially made by a third party to police in March 2001.
“Officers have since spoken to a woman believed to be the 19-year-old woman, who is now thought to be alive and unharmed in the Middle East, to gain further details about the incident. The investigation is being headed by Detective Chief Inspector David Beck.”
DCI Beck is the force’s chief hostage negotiator. He was an adviser during the Stansted airport hijacking in February.
Sources in London and Cambridge have independently confirmed to the Guardian that the woman making the allegations described herself as Sheikha Shamsa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum.
As the most prominent member of the autocratic Maktoum ruling clan, Sheikh Mohammed is Dubai’s head of state and the defence minister of the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven Gulf states.
He has extensive British interests, mainly through his Godolphin horseracing base in Newmarket, where the family owns several large properties.
The Foreign Office refused to comment on the case, referring all inquiries to Cambridgeshire police.
But the Guardian has made extensive attempts to verify the facts. We have established that Sheikh Mohammed does have a daughter called Shamsa. She was born on August 15 1981, and once finished 10 places ahead of Princess Anne in a long-distance horse race across the Arabian desert.
When we telephoned one of Sheikh Mohammed’s residences in Dubai and asked to speak to Sheikha Shamsa, a man took a contact number, but the call was not returned.
We have also submitted a written request to speak to Sheikha Shamsa directly, through her father’s London lawyer, Peter Watson.
Mr Watson, a partner in the City firm Allen and Overy, confirmed her existence, and told the Guardian that it was his understanding that she was in Dubai, “where she lives happily with her family”.
When we asked him to convey the request to speak to her, the lawyer said the information the Guardian had provided him with was “too scant to provide a basis on which to seek instructions”.
Sheikh Mohammed, his London office and his lawyer have all declined to comment on the police investigation.