UK judge ruled that ruler of Dubai orchestrated abduction of daughters and intimidated his wife
Ministers, police and prosecutors are under pressure to bring the ruler of Dubai to justice after a UK judge ruled that he orchestrated the abduction of two of daughters – one from the streets of Cambridge.
The damning family court judgment naming Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is a friend of the Queen and one of the UK’s most important figures in horse-racing, risks destabilising diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates, a close Gulf ally.
His behaviour was described by the judge, Sir Andrew McFarlane, on the balance of probabilities as amounting to potentially breaking English and international law.
The ruling found that the police officer investigating the abduction of Princess Shamsa from Cambridge in 2000, when she was 19, was prevented from travelling to Dubai to pursue his criminal inquiries.
DCI David Beck of Cambridgeshire police was denied permission to fly out to the Gulf to interview “potential witnesses” after making a formal request to the Crown Prosecution Service, the ruling found. The Foreign Office refused to hand over its files on the case to the court.
The Guardian and other news organisations can reveal the ruling following months of private hearings and a legal dispute that reached the supreme court. It details an extraordinary family saga spanning 20 years during which the sheikh, 70, organised international kidnappings, imprisoned both Shamsa and another daughter, Latifa, and “deprived [them] of their liberty”.
Princess Latifa, then 32, was seized by Indian army commandos from the Indian Ocean in 2018 after fleeing her home, and was forcibly returned to Dubai.
Allegations of torture surfaced during the case. Latifa said she was exposed at one stage to “constant torture”, and the judge, while he did not make any finding on that specific point, said he felt confident in relying upon her account. She claimed to have been kept in solitude in the dark and beaten repeatedly.
The sheikh’s actions emerged after his sixth and youngest wife, Princess Haya, 45, fled to London last April with their two young children. His attempt to return the children to Dubai triggered a legal action in the family courts.
Haya resisted it with a counter-claim seeking a forced marriage protection order in respect of their daughter, alleging that the sheikh was trying to marry her off to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. ‘MBS’, as he is better known, has been accused of involvement in the murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The court did not find this allegation to be true.
The judgment raises questions about whether the Foreign Office blocked the police investigation into the disappearance of Shamsa, after she had fled to Cambridge from Surrey in 2000. McFarlane said he was unable to make a determination because the Foreign Office refused to cooperate on freedom of information grounds.
Following the ruling, Labour’s shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti, said: “This is clearly a shocking judgment. Both Priti Patel [the home secretary] and Dominic Raab [the foreign secretary] must urgently investigate why a criminal inquiry into a kidnap in Cambridge appears to have been impeded.”
David Haigh, the British lawyer for Princess Latifa, told the Guardian that he was sending the judgment to the United Nations’ working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, which is already investigating Latifa’s disappearance.
“We are delighted with the judgment,” he said. “It’s vindication for everything we have been saying, vindication for Shamsa, Latifa and Haya.”
Haigh said that he and Tiina Jauhiainen, Latifa’s close friend, had been interviewed at the end of last year by Cambridge police, who are still investigating Shamsa’s abduction. He added: “It is now clear to see why Sheikh Mohammed did not want these judgments to be made available to the world. They show him as someone unfit to be in charge of children, let alone a state that is an ally of the UK.”
Sheikh Mohammed’s behaviour was first highlighted by a Guardian article in 2001, the judgment noted, adding that Haya read the story about Shamsa’s disappearance in 2016 but initially did not believe her husband was implicated.
Sheikh Mohammed is also the vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. He has fathered 25 children; his two with Haya are the youngest.
He refused to attend any of the multiple hearings at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London. His wife, Haya, was a constant presence in court, sitting alongside her solicitor, the prominent divorce lawyer Lady Shackleton.
The judgment goes into detail about the campaign of harassment endured by Haya. The judge accepted virtually all her allegations as true on the balance of probabilities, including that the sheikh:
- Attempted to have her abducted by helicopter.
- Arranged for guns to be left in her bedroom.
- Taunted her over her adulterous relationship with a bodyguard.
- Divorced her without telling her.
- Threatened to seize their children.
- Published threatening poems about her online.
McFarlane finds that their relationship had deteriorated and that sometime in 2017 or 2018 she “embarked upon an adulterous relationship with one of her male bodyguards”.
In early 2019, Haya began to show interest in the fate of her husband’s daughters, Shamsa and Latifa. According to the judgment, the sheikh began to make threats against her and in February, divorced her under sharia law without informing her.
On 11 March that year, the judgment records, a helicopter landed near her compound in Dubai and the pilot told her he was going to take her to Awir, “a prison in the desert”.
Haya said that if her son had not been there and clung on to her leg, she would have been taken away. The judgment added: “Flight documents with respect to the helicopter have been disclosed and show that one of the crew was one of the three people named by Shamsa and [an employee of the sheikh] as being involved in Shamsa’s removal from England in 2000.”
It continues: “Throughout this period the mother received a series of anonymous notes, left in her bedroom or elsewhere, making threats, for example ‘We will take your son – your daughter is ours – your life is over’ or warning her to be careful … On two occasions in March 2019, the mother states that she found a gun left on her bed with the muzzle pointing towards the door and the safety catch off.”
In June, the sheikh published a poem entitled You Lived and Died. Haya saw it as a direct threat to her and a public announcement of her “betrayal”.
The poem stated: “You traitor, you betrayed the most precious trust. I exposed you and your games … I have the evidence that convicts you of what you have done … You know your actions are an insult … Let’s see if mischief brings you benefits, I care not whether you live or die.”
McFarlane’s judgment explains that his ruling “may well involve findings, albeit on the civil standard, of behaviour which is contrary to the criminal law of England and Wales, international law, international maritime law, and internationally accepted human rights norms”.
The civil standard is a conclusion made on the balance of probabilities; that is, the allegation is more likely than not to be true. It is not a finding to the criminal standard, which is beyond a reasonable doubt.
McFarlane ends his judgment saying: “These findings, taken together, demonstrate a consistent course of conduct over two decades where, if he deems it necessary to do so, the father [Sheikh Mohammed] will use the very substantial powers at his disposal to achieve his particular aims.”
The sheikh has denied all the allegations against him. In a statement issued to the media, he said: “This case concerns highly personal and private matters relating to our children. The appeal was made to protect the best interests and welfare of the children. The outcome does not protect my children from media attention in the way that other children in family proceedings in the UK are protected.
“As a head of government, I was not able to participate in the court’s fact-finding process. This has resulted in the release of a ‘fact-finding’ judgment which inevitably tells only one side of the story. I ask that the media respect the privacy of our children and do not intrude into their lives in the UK.”
Neither the Foreign Office, Crown Prosecution Service nor Cambridgeshire police commented.