Runaway Dubai princess is a matter for her family, says Robinson

Ex-Irish president says Sheikha Latifa is a troubled young woman

Ellen Coyne, Senior Ireland Reporter
December 28 2018, The Times

Mary Robinson has said that the case of an Arab princess who claimed she was trying to escape abuse when she fled Dubai is now a “family matter”.

The former Irish president’s involvement in the case was questioned after she said that Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, 33, who failed in an attempt to escape the UAE earlier this year, was a “troubled young woman” who needed psychiatric help.

An international human rights group asked how Ms Robinson would know the difference between the princess having an existing mental health problem and her suffering from alleged ill treatment from her family.

Sheikha Latifa tried to flee after claiming that she had suffered years of abuse at the hands of her family. She is the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and the prime minister of the UAE.

In March she failed to escape Dubai, attempting to reach India with the help of Hervé Jaubert, 62, a former French secret agent, but a yacht they were travelling in was stopped off the coast of Goa by a small armada of armed ships and helicopter, and boarded by the Indian coastguard.

Human rights groups had raised concerns about her safety because she had not been seen in public or heard from since she was returned to Dubai that month. In a video, which she said she had recorded before the escape in case it failed, the princess said her father had been holding her against her will.

In pictures released on Monday, she was seen for the first time in months sitting beside Ms Robinson. In a statement accompanying the pictures, the UAE foreign ministry said that Ms Robinson was “reassured” that the princess was getting the “necessary care and support she requires”.

Ms Robinson, a human rights advocate, said she had agreed to the release of the pictures, which show her sitting beside the princess, “to help the family to allow it to be understood that this is a family matter now and that [the princess] is in the loving care of her family”.

Ms Robinson said she had been asked to visit Dubai by Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, one of Sheikh Mohammed’s wives. Ms Robinson said she had known Princess Haya for “a long time”.

“She asked me to come to Dubai to help with a family dilemma. The dilemma was that Latifa is vulnerable, she is troubled, she made a video that she now regrets and she planned an escape,” Ms Robinson said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday. “I had lunch with her. She is a very likeable young woman but clearly troubled, clearly needs the medical care that she is receiving.” Ms Robinson said she was able to “assess the situation” because the princess was with her stepmother’s relatives and not her “wider family”. Ms Robinson said she believed the young woman was being well looked after.

“It is a very complicated situation, and I understand the concern,” she said. “I think you have to bear in mind that this is a troubled young woman who has a serious medical situation. She is receiving psychiatric care and they don’t want her to endure any more publicity. That was the dilemma.”

The United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had all repeatedly sought assurances as to Princess Latifa’s safety. Ms Robinson said that she had emailed Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, about the issue.

However, Mr Roth yesterday questioned whether Ms Robinson would know the difference between the princess suffering from a pre-existing condition and the consequences of any ill-treatment in Dubai.

“Mary Robinson says UAE Princess Latifa is ‘troubled,’ suggesting a pre-existing condition, though I’d be troubled too if I tried to escape a gilded prison and was kidnapped back. Would Robinson know the difference? Of course family doesn’t want publicity,” Mr Roth tweeted.

A BBC documentary on the case released this month said that the princess had spent seven years plotting her escape from Dubai by sea. It said that she had been learning to scuba dive and contacted Mr Jaubert, who had previously escaped the emirate by evading security, dressing in a burka and 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 off Goa. The princess was dragged away by what appeared to be commandos.

Princess Latifa is one of the 69-year-old ruler’s 23 officially acknowledged children, and the second daughter to try to flee. In 2001, aged 19, Sheikha Shamsa bint Suhail al-Mazrouei left her father’s estate 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.”

Mr Jaubert has denied having a criminal record.