LONDON – The sixth wife of Dubai’s billionaire ruler is in hiding in London as she prepares for a court battle with her husband, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, in a case that appears to be connected to the mysterious disappearance of Princess Latifa, Sheikh Mohammed’s daughter from another marriage, according to British media reports.
Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, 45, fled Dubai for Europe last month after she became aware of details related to the forced return of Princess Latifa to the Middle Eastern state after she was intercepted by commandoes last year on a U.S.-flagged civilian yacht off the coast of India. Her case has been highlighted by USA TODAY.
Oxford University-educated Princess Haya, a glamorous figure who served on the International Olympic Committee and as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations’ World Food Program, is thought to be hiding in a townhouse in central London over fears for her life, according to British broadcaster the BBC, citing Dubai royal family sources.
Other British media outlets have also reported on the claim.
Sheikh Mohammed, 69, has filed an application for divorce and custody of the pair’s two children, ages 11 and 7. A hearing will take place on July 30 in Britain’s Royal Court of Justice, the court confirmed to USA TODAY. Sheikh Mohammed has an estimated wealth of $4 billion, according to Forbes, making him one of richest royals in the world.
He is a major figure in international horse racing and breeding and owns and operates two horse racing farms in Kentucky. He’s been Dubai’s leader since 2006. Sheikh Mohammed has an estimated 30 children with his six wives.
Unnamed sources close to Princess Haya told the BBC that she had discovered “disturbing” facts about Princess Latifa’s attempt to flee Dubai and was subject to increasing hostility and pressure from members of Sheikh Mohammed’s extended family. The broadcaster said she no longer felt safe, and fled to Germany before moving on to Britain.
Officials from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in London have refused to comment on the case.
Princess Haya was previously criticized by human rights groups after she invited former Irish president Mary Robinson, an ex-United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to visit Dubai and affirm that Princess Latifa was being treated well.
In a video uploaded to YouTube in March, released after her disappearance, Princess Latifa said she had planned her escape from Dubai’s ruling family for seven years, running away from what she said was her father’s oppressive and cruel treatment.
Dubai has world-class infrastructure, luxury shopping malls, a skyscraper-filled skyline and a large expatriate population. But in the video, Princess Latifa characterized Dubai as one big sham, saying that because she was a women her father refused to let her visit nonpublic places. Even the private homes of her friends were off-limits.
The Britain-based Emirates Center for Human Rights, a nonprofit, says authorities in the United Arab Emirates regularly subject those who violate their restrictions to torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and unfair trials. The United Nations has expressed concern over counterterrorism laws under which anyone over 16 can be found to “undermine national unity or social peace” and sentenced to death. Foreigners have been detained for drinking alcohol in public without a license. Or for holding hands. When Dubai’s government unveiled an initiative recently to foster gender equality in the workplace, Sheikh Mohammed handed out all the awards: to men.
“There’s no justice here,” Princess Latifa says in the video.
Authorities in Dubai dismissed the allegations and claimed Princess Latifa had been kidnapped and was “vulnerable to exploitation.” On Christmas Eve, the United Arab Emirates’ foreign ministry released pictures it claimed “rebutted false allegations” and proved she was at home with her family. In the photos, Princess Latifa looks dazed and her close friends told USA TODAY they feared she was being drugged.
“Latifa’s case proves Princess Haya had good reason to try and escape,” said Radha Stirling, the CEO of Detained in Dubai, an organization that provides legal and humanitarian advice for criminal justice cases in the Middle East.
Stirling was contacted by Princess Latifa about her legal status, asylum procedures and to help alert the press about her plight immediately before she was returned to Dubai after trying to escape aboard an American-registered sailing yacht named Nostromo with the help of a former French spy and a fitness instructor from Finland.
She has not been in contact with her since.
“It is clear that Princess Haya has taken this step precisely to protect her children from facing the same fate Latifa endured, and which she is still suffering,” she said.
Stirling said that in the court case later this month in London it’s conceivable that Princess Haya could testify about what she knows about Sheikh Mohammed’s treatment of his daughter. The court could even call for testimony from Princess Latifa herself.
Still, while UAE authorities have not addressed Princess Haya’s case, Sheikh Mohammed has been publishing his reaction online on his official website.
“O sweetheart, there’s nothing more to say. / Your deathly silence has worn me out,” he writes in one poem published on the website in Arabic and English.
In another, he says: “You no longer have a place with me. / I don’t care if you live or die.”