A controversy involving one of the world’s richest royal families is set to intensify when a court case begins in London on Tuesday.
The dispute between Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, and his wife, Princess Haya, has been the subject of intense media speculation in recent weeks, after it was reported she was in “hiding” in London at the beginning of July, allegedly in “fear of her life.”
Princess Haya, the half-sister of the King of Jordan, Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, is Sheikh Mohammed’s sixth wife, and the pair have two children together.
Contrary to media reports that the upcoming court case is a divorce, the U.K.’s judicial press office, with the agreement of the couple and the president of the family division of the high court, issued a statement earlier this month saying that the case concerned the “welfare of the two children.”
“The parties to these proceedings are HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein,” the statement said. “These proceedings are concerned with the welfare of the two children of their marriage and do not concern divorce or finances.”
Sheikh Mohammed is being represented by Helen Ward, who represented Guy Ritchie in his divorce from Madonna, while Princess Haya’s legal team is being led by Fiona Shackleton, who represented Prince Charles in his divorce from Princess Diana.
Sheikh Mohammed is estimated to have a net worth in excess of $4 billion, according to Forbes.
A preliminary hearing will be held at the Family Division of the High Court in London on July 30 and July 31.(MORE: ‘Londongrad’: The real-life fight against dirty money flowing into London from foreign countries)
Princess Haya allegedly fled Dubai after discovering “disturbing facts” regarding the return of her stepdaughter, Princess Latifa, following Latifa’s alleged escape attempt last year, the BBC reported. She allegedly fled with her children, according to reports.
Radha Stirling, the founder of Detained in Dubai, a human rights organization which specializes in the UAE, told ABC News that Princess Latifa fled Dubai in February of last year, before she was recaptured in a military raid on a yacht in the Indian Ocean in March 2018.
“Princess Latifa’s very public escape shocked the world,” Stirling told ABC News. “Sheikh Mohammed was a prominent ambassador for modernity and progress in the UAE but her escape highlighted the stark contrast between the country’s publicly promoted image and reality.”
After her alleged capture, the Free Latifa campaign, led by human rights lawyer David Haigh, released a video in which the princess spoke at length about her escape attempt and mistreatment at the hands of her royal family.
Her alleged escape and recapture in 2018 was the subject of a BBC documentary last year, “Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess.”(MORE: Details emerge on spending habits of woman who dropped $21 million at Harrods: Report)
Dubai’s Royal Court issued a statement rejecting the BBC’s reporting in December 2018, as well as that of other news organizations, saying that they had received reports that a ransom had been demanded for Latifa after she went missing, and that she is “safe in Dubai.”
Haigh told ABC News that Latifa was captured alongside five other individuals attempting to escape the kingdom, all of whom have been released from the UAE except the princess.
After her alleged escape attempt, Latifa was not seen again until December 2018, when she appeared back in the UAE in a photo op alongside Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland. Robinson was reportedly invited to see Latifa at that time by Princess Haya, according to Stirling.
After learning more facts about the return of Latifa to Dubai, Haya fled to the U.K., Stirling said, in the hopes it would be a safe haven as the court proceedings unfold.
“The jurisdiction of England is the safest place for any proceedings to take place and we do not expect the UAE to be able to exude any influence over British courts,” Stirling said. “It is important that the focus remains on the very real issue of Princess Haya’s safety, as well as that of her children who remain at great risk.”