Hugh Tomlinson, Delhi
May 2, 2018, The Times
The Indian prime minister authorised an operation to seize and repatriate a Dubai princess who had fled the Gulf, alleging torture by the ruling family, it has been claimed.
In the latest twist to an extraordinary tale involving the princess’s escape with a former French spy, which ended at gunpoint off the Indian coast, a report in India has claimed that Narendra Modi sent in the coastguard to stop the pair at the request of Dubai’s royal family.
The prime minister is said to have approved the interception of her yacht, in an alleged breach of international law, on the advice of security officials who advised him to act “to secure India’s counter-terrorism and strategic interests”.
Mr Modi has cultivated closer ties with the United Arab Emirates since taking office, striking agreements on cybersecurity, trade and counterterrorism with the oil-rich Arab monarchy.
Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, 32, the daughter of Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and UAE vice-president, fled the Gulf state in early March. In a video sent to the group Detained in Dubai, the sheikha claimed she had suffered years of abuse at the hands of her family and was held a virtual prisoner.
She was helped by Hervé Jaubert, a 62-year-old former French secret agent turned businessman who had himself made a remarkable escape from Dubai years earlier.
Accused of defrauding a company owned by the royal family, Mr Jaubert said he was threatened with torture and barred from leaving the country. Wearing scuba gear under a burka, he fled by sea in 2010, swimming underwater before stealing a boat to escape to international waters.
He picked up Sheikha Latifa after she slipped out of Dubai into neighbouring Oman and together they set out for India on a US-registered yacht, the Nostromo. About 30 miles off the coast of Goa, however, the boat was stopped by a small armada of armed ships and a helicopter and boarded by the Indian coastguard.
The princess and Mr Jaubert were taken back to the UAE. He has since been released but Sheikha Latifa has not been heard from.
The raid was authorised by Mr Modi and co-ordinated by Ajit Doval, India’s national security adviser, according to the Business Standardnewspaper, citing senior government sources. “There is no illegality . . . In this case we acted because we were informed that the individuals on the yacht were sought by the UAE for a crime,” an Indian diplomat told the paper.
Another government source admitted that India had not sought a formal legal request from the UAE to apprehend the princess, though the two countries do share an extradition treaty.
The two governments have made no comment about the raid to capture Sheikha Latifa. “We have nothing to say on this. We are not aware of this incident,” a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs said yesterday.