Allegations an embarrassment for Dubai’s billionaire ruler
February 17, 2021, Financial Times
The UN’s top human rights body has said it will raise the alleged detention of the daughter of Dubai’s billionaire ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum with the United Arab Emirates after video clips were released in which the princess claimed she was being held hostage.
Sheikh Mohammed’s treatment of Sheikha Latifa, 35, has drawn fresh scrutiny after the BBC broadcast video messages she purportedly sent to friends in which she said she was being held in solitary confinement in a villa in Dubai.
“I’m hostage, I’m not free, I’m enslaved, I’m imprisoned in this jail, my life is not in my hands,” Sheikha Latifa said in clips recorded in 2019, according to the BBC’s Panorama programme.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said it would “certainly raise these new developments with the UAE”.
“Other parts of the UN human rights system with relevant mandates may also become involved once they have analysed the new material or received specific allegations,” the office said.
The allegations are a further embarrassment for Sheikh Mohammed, the UAE’s vice-president and prime minister, who is one of the oil-rich Gulf’s most high-profile leaders. Damaging details about his private life were thrust into the spotlight last year after he and his former wife, Princess Haya, became locked in a legal dispute in London’s High Court related to the welfare of their two young children.
During their custody battle, the London High Court ruled last year that Sheikh Mohammed orchestrated a campaign “aimed at intimidating and frightening” Princess Haya, who was his sixth wife. She fled to the UK with their two young children in 2019 claiming she was in fear of her life.
The court also ruled that he had previously “ordered and orchestrated” the abduction of two of his daughters from a previous marriage, including Sheikha Latifa. Her sister, Sheikha Shamsa, was taken from the UK in 2000.
The court heard that Sheikha Latifa left Dubai for Oman in 2018 with the help of her Finnish fitness trainer, Tiina Jauhiainen, and set out to sea in a dinghy. She eventually ended up on a yacht operated by a Frenchman who helped organise the escape for a fee of about €350,000. The escape was foiled when Indian commandos boarded the yacht off the coast of Goa and Sheikha Latifa was handed over to Emirati security forces who took her back to Dubai.
In a video message that Sheikha Latifa had said was recorded from the bathroom of a villa in Dubai in April 2019, she said: “Every day I’m worried about my safety and my life”.
“I don’t know if I’m going to survive the situation,” Sheikha Latifa said. “The police threaten me that I will be in prison my whole life and I’ll never see the sun again.”
Friends of Sheikh Latifa told the BBC that after exchanging messages with the princess in 2019 the communication stopped.
The UAE regards the matters as private family issues and has not commented publicly on the allegations made by Sheikha Latifa or Sheikh Mohammed’s custody battle with Princess Haya.
The allegations against Sheikh Mohammed are sensitive for the British establishment as the Emirati ruler has significant business interests in the UK and is one of most prominent figures in horseracing.
Dominic Raab, the UK’s foreign secretary, told the BBC that the videos of Sheikh Latifa were “deeply troubling”.
“Of course we are concerned about it, I regularly raise human rights issues with countries around the world, including UAE,” he said.