India helped ‘seize fleeing Dubai princess’

Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent
April 2, 2018, The Times

A woman claiming to be Sheikha Latifa said she was being held against her will by her father in a video released last month

A French former spy who was helping a Dubai princess to escape from her father has described how the yacht they were on was stormed by the Indian coastguard, acting for the Emirati authorities.

Hervé Jaubert was taking a woman identified as Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum to India in an attempt to win her asylum in America. She said that she had been held a virtual prisoner for years by her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.

Mr Jaubert, 62, is a former secret service agent turned businessman who himself escaped from Dubai ten years ago while awaiting trial on fraud charges. He said that he had responded to a request for help but subsequently went missing at sea along with Sheikha Latifa, 32, and her best friend, Tiina Johanna Jauhiainen, 41, who is from Finland.

The three were taken to the United Arab Emirates after the yacht, the US-registered Nostromo, was stormed off the Indian coast by a small armada of military vessels, Mr Jaubert said in his first account of the escape.

The “mystery of the missing sheikha” was first revealed by the group Detained in Dubai, which campaigns on behalf of people who have fallen foul of the legal system in the UAE.

Before she fled Sheikha Latifa sent a lawyer a 40-minute video giving her life story and saying that she had once been jailed for three years for trying to help her older sister, Sheikha Shamsa, who had also tried to escape her upbringing. She said the video was supposed to have been released only if her escape attempt had failed.

On March 4 she sent a message from her mobile phone to Radha Stirling, director of Detained in Dubai, saying that she was on a yacht with Mr Jaubert and that it was being boarded by armed men. Nothing more was heard from the group until ten days ago when Ms Jauhiainen was put on a plane from Dubai to London and Mr Jaubert was allowed to sail his yacht away from a UAE military base. “We were taken to the UAE, kidnapped and sent to jail in the UAE,” Mr Jaubert said in a statement issued through the campaign group. “We were blindfolded and handcuffed . . . Altogether there were like five warships, two planes and a helicopter.”

He said he was told that he had not broken any national law but that the Emirati authorities were acting on the basis of Islamic law, “because under Islamic law women are in the custody of a father, husband or brother. So when I helped Latifa to escape, they viewed that as kidnapping her from her father.”

In a separate statement Ms Jauhiainen said the raid on the yacht had been conducted by the Indian military and was the most terrifying experience of her life. “Latifa was screaming at the Indian men that she was claiming political asylum. They dragged her away as I heard her say, ‘I won’t go back to the UAE, just kill me now.’ I haven’t seen my friend Latifa since.” Ms Jauhiainen said that back in Dubai she had been threatened, forced to sign a statement in Arabic that she did not understand and warned that Sheikh Mohammed was one of the most powerful men in the world. “I was regularly told that I was facing the death penalty,” she said.

Dubai and the Emirati authorities have not made any comment on Sheikha Latifa’s allegations or explained what happened to her.

Ms Stirling said the Indian authorities had carried out a “belligerent and hostile act” beyond international law. She said that the UAE had “acted as if their own cultural norms and religious beliefs superseded their international legal obligations and the rule of law”.