Hannah Lucinda Smith, Istanbul
December 7, 2018, The Times
An Emirati princess spent seven years plotting her escape from the country by sea, including learning how to scuba dive in her pool, only to be thwarted 30 miles from the coast of India.
Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, 33, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, has not been seen since March, when she was seized from a yacht by armed men and taken back to Dubai.
The lengths the princess had gone to escape her controlling father and the wealthy country that she thought of as a gilded prison were shown in a BBC documentary broadcast last night. It showed Sheikha Latifa diving in an indoor swimming pool in February.
She had contacted Hervé Jaubert, a former French spy and naval officer. He had previously escaped the emirate by evading security, dressing in a burka and then scuba diving into international waters.
Tiina Jauhiainen, the princess’s Finnish martial arts instructor and confidante, drove with her across the border into Oman, where they were picked up by dinghy and then jet skied to Mr Jaubert’s yacht. She had altered her initial plan to scuba dive to the yacht after it became clear that it would be too difficult. After a week the vessel was raided as it sailed near the coast of Goa. The princess was dragged away by what appeared to be commandos.
Both Mr Jaubert and Ms Jauhiainen have spoken to the BBC and voiced their concern for Sheikha Latifa’s wellbeing. They were also imprisoned in Dubai after the attempted escape but were released after 20 days. The documentary, Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess, included clips of a video that the princess had filmed before escaping. She said that she was imprisoned and tortured after she previously fled home when she was 16.
“Pretty soon I’m going to be leaving somehow,” she said in the footage. “If it doesn’t work then maybe this video can help me, because all my father cares about is his reputation. He would kill to protect his own reputation.”
The princess gave the video to a lawyer in the United States and it was later posted on YouTube. Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, a law firm in London, is preparing legal action against the UAE and India over what it claims was an abduction.
Sheikha Latifa is one of the 69-year-old ruler’s 23 officially acknowledged children, and the second daughter to try to flee. Aged 19, Sheikha Shamsa bint Suhail al-Mazrouei, as she is now named, left her father’s estate in 2001 but was returned.
In a statement before the programme aired, Dubai’s royal court said it was “saddened by the media speculation”. It said: “Sheikha Latifa was vulnerable to exploitation, primarily by Mr Hervé Jaubert, a man with a criminal record. He and his accomplices demanded a payment of a ransom of $100 million shortly after Her Highness disappeared, for her return.”