Strange case of the sheikh's daughter

Stuart Millar and Jamie Wilson
December 10, 2001, The Guardian

A young woman claims she was forced abroad in mystery involving leading Arab family

At the end of March Cambridgeshire police received a call from a British solicitor with a bizarre tale to tell. The resulting conversation sparked a police investigation involving allegations of kidnap and the family of one of the Arab world’s most famous leaders.

Cambridgeshire police are investigating whether there is any substance to the allegations, which centre on a late summer evening in August last year.

A woman, who claims to be Sheikha Shamsa, 19, daughter of the enormously wealthy crown prince of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, says she had gone to a bar in Cambridge with two other people.

After leaving the bar, she alleges, they had been walking along a road out of the city when a car had pulled up alongside them. According to her account, it contained at least four men whom the woman claims were from Sheikh Mohammed’s personal staff, all of them apparently Dubai nationals.

The woman alleges that she was ordered into the car and taken to one of the Maktoum properties in Newmarket.

The following day, she says, she was flown to Dubai by private jet.

“If this happened like she says, it was well done, quite a well-planned operation in that they got her out before anyone knew about it,” one source said.

Jet fleet

The police have a duty to investigate and are trying to ascertain whether the woman is Sheikha Shamsa as she claims, and whether any of these events happened. It is not clear whether any offence has been committed. The Maktoum family have six private jets, which fly under the title Dubai Air Wing but which are used exclusively for family, horse racing and other personal flights.

Two of the fleet, a Boeing 737 luxury business jet, tailnumber A6-HRS, and a smaller Gulfstream G-IV, tailnumber A6-HHH, spend most of the summer months in Britain to ferry the family and their staff around during the flatracing season. The Guardian has established that for most of August 2000, both aircraft were operating in the UK. One of them made at least one return trip to Dubai during this period carrying passengers. But there is no evidence that the woman claiming to be Sheikha Shamsa travelled on any of these flights.

The planes are based at Farnborough airport in Hampshire but the Maktoums prefer to fly in and out of Stansted airport in Essex because it offers better access to their properties in Newmarket.

The Guardian has made exhaustive attempts to talk to Sheikh Mohammed about this investigation.

A letter to the sheikh was faxed to his London lawyer, Peter Watson of Allen and Overy, with a request that it be forwarded to the sheikh for his response. Two days later, Mr Watson told the Guardian he had “not been able to arrange for this to be done”.

We also faxed the information to the managing director of the Dubai London office, Mr al-Shaibani, whom Dalham Hall – the sheikh’s Newmarket HQ – told us was responsible for handling Sheikh Mohammed’s personal business in this country.

The same letter was sent to an email address for media inquiries listed on Sheikh Mohammed’s personal website, sheikhmohammed.co.ae. On the site, he claims to read his emails every night.

But Sheikh Mohammed and his representatives have not responded. Whether or not the events the woman alleges took place, the very existence of a police investigation involving the family of such a high profile and influential foreign royal is extremely sensitive for Britain’s diplomatic and trade activites in the Middle East.

Sheikh Mohammed is widely recognised as the driving force behind the continued economic success of the tiny emirate. Although his eldest brother, Sheikh Maktoum al-Maktoum is the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed has taken over the reins from his late father, Sheikh Rashid, who transformed Dubai from a collection of rag tag buildings surrounding a trading port to the economic hub of the Gulf region, aided by the discovery of oil and gas reserves in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Born in 1948, Sheikh Mohammed is the third of four brothers who are reputed to get $1m a day each from oil revenues. He has long had close associations with Britain, attending Sandhurst and training with the British army and the RAF.

But he is best known as the world’s leading owner of recehorses through the Godolphin racing stables, which he has built into a global force. His centre of operations is the vast Dalham Hall stud in Newmarket, where he and his son, Rashid, have two mansions surrounded by acres of countryside and protected by imposing iron fences.

A former owner of the Racing Post newspaper, he spends most of the summer flat racing season in the UK while the entire operation moves back to Dubai for the winter. According to Sheikh Mohammed, he and his wife, Sheikha Hind have seven sons and nine daughters.

It may be that the kidnap allegations turn out to be no more than a domestic dispute, as was the case earlier this year in a remarkable incident involving Sheikh Mohammed’s eldest brother, Sheikh Maktoum al-Maktoum. In April 2000, officers from the Metropolitan police’s elite organised crime group and Hampshire police were alerted that the three young sons of Sheikh Mohammed’s eldest brother, Sheikh Maktoum al-Maktoum, had been abducted by a group of four Arab men.

Sealed off

The call was made by the boys’ nanny. A senior of