Princess Latifa ‘free’ as lawyers target Dubai sheikh

David Brown, David Rose, The Times
May 24, 2021

The British government has been asked to impose sanctions on the ruler of Dubai for the abduction of his daughter who appears to have been freed from her “villa jail”.

Photographs of Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum have been released more than three years after she was seized from a yacht while trying to escape the emirate.

Latifa, 35, visited the Mall of the Emirates centre in Dubai two weeks ago and again on Saturday. She was accompanied by Sioned Taylor, a Royal Navy veteran and teacher working in Dubai.

Photos showed her in the Mall of the Emirates with Sioned Taylor, left

Taylor, who worked for a member of the royal family until Latifa’s attempted escape, posted a photograph on Instagram of the princess with two other women at the shopping centre.

A cinema poster in the background showed the film Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, which was released in UAE on May 13. A second image posted on Saturday showed the princess at a restaurant in the Burj Khalifa skyscraper.

Latifa appears to have been released at least temporarily after the United Nations working group on arbitrary detention demanded “proof of life”.

David Haigh, Latifa’s British lawyer, and Tiina Jauhiainen, her best friend, who was with the princess when she was abducted, last week asked Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, to freeze the assets of her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 71.

Sheikh Mohammed owns properties across Britain which, along with assets owned by the state of Dubai, such as Emirates airlines, could be targeted by the sanctions, with the sheikh banned from entering the UK if the application was successful.

Haigh said when the papers were filed: “We look to Dominic Raab to stand by his promise to parliament last summer that human rights abusers with ‘blood on their hands’ won’t be free to come to the UK.

“There was understandable outrage across the world when the true horror of the abuses of Latifa’s human rights, and the lies told to cover that abuse up, became clear to the world in Latifa’s own words, as a hostage in Dubai.”

The formal request seeks orders against the sheikh, his sister, Maitha, and Brigadier Ali Mohammed Al Shamali, who runs Dubai’s jails. It also covers Major General Nasser Ahmed Al-Raisi, inspector-general in the interior ministry, who is one of five named candidates for the presidency of Interpol, the international police organisation.

Sheikh Mohammed owns several large estates in Britain (ALAMY)

Sir David Calvert-Smith, a former director of public prosecutions, wrote a report last month saying that Al-Raisi “has overseen an increased crackdown on dissent, continued torture, and abuses in its criminal justice system”.

The fifth person covered by the sanctions request is Mohammad Shabbani, the sheikh’s right-hand man, who the High Court heard last year was allegedly involved in the abduction of Latifa and that of her older sister, Shamsa, who was seized in Cambridge in 2000.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family division of the High Court, ruled that the sheikh had orchestrated the abduction and forced captivity of Shamsa and Latifa.

Shamsa, then 19, was kidnapped on the orders of her father after fleeing the family’s Longcross estate near Cobham, Surrey, in 2000. She was taken to her father’s 3,300-acre Dalham Hall estate in Suffolk, which includes his celebrated Godolphin racing stables, and by helicopter from the UK.

Latifa was captured on a yacht off the coast of Goa, drugged and returned to Dubai in March 2018. In videos recorded on a mobile telephone and sent to her British lawyers she described being held in a villa which “has been converted into a jail”.

“All the windows are barred shut,” she added. “There’s five policemen outside and two policewomen inside. I can’t even go out to get fresh air. So basically, I’m a hostage.”

A United Nations 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 later Christian Michel, 59, was extradited from Dubai to Delhi, where he is accused of paying bribes to help Agusta Westland, the helicopter manufacturer, win a contract worth more than $500 million.

Sheikh Mohammed is prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates. He has invested a fortune turning Godolphin into one of the world’s premier racing stables. He has regularly been invited to join the Queen at Royal Ascot. His homes include a sprawling Highland retreat with 63,000 acres of land.

The pictures seem to have been taken in recent weeks

The sheikh started legal action in the High Court in 2019 after the youngest of his six wives, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein of Jordan, 46, fled to London with their two young children. She said that she feared that the children would be abducted like their half-sisters.

He has said that he believes Latifa has been “manipulated” and he described her return to Dubai as a “rescue mission”. The sheikh said that he ordered a search for Shamsa because she was more “vulnerable than other young women of her age because her status made her a kidnap risk, for example”.

Latifa’s lawyers are seeking the sanctions under the UK laws with similar powers to the US Magnitsky Act, which seek to deter human rights abuses and tortures. The sanctions legislation is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died from mistreatment in a Moscow jail in 2009 after he disclosed a $230 million tax fraud at Hermitage, a UK-based asset management company.

Haigh and Jauhiainen declined to comment further yesterday and said they would issue a more detailed statement later.

The Foreign Office said that Raab and the prime minister had described Latifa’s case as “concerning” and that it would be closely monitoring the outcome of the UN’s request for proof of life. A spokeswoman said: “We do not comment on speculation about potential future legal action including sanctions.”