- In February 2018, Princess Latifa of Dubai, one of the emir’s 23 children, fled with her martial arts teacher, and man who says he used to be a French spy.
- Their escape was cut short by Emirati commandos off the coast of India, who intercepted the group as they sailed away in a yacht.
- Latifa was forcibly returned to Dubai, and hasn’t been heard from in public since.
- Tiina Jauhiainen was Latifa’s confidant and martial arts teacher who accompanied her during the escape. She spoke to INSIDER about the mission.
- A spotlight has focused on Sheikh Mohammed’s household since news broke in July 2019 that his sixth wife, Princess Haya, had fled, and is suing him for custody of their two children.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
In July 2019, Princess Haya, the sixth wife of Dubai emir Sheikh Mohammed, sued for custody of their two children in a UK court.
The legal battle has cast a new spotlight on the inner working’s of Dubai’s royal household — and, according to reports, was inspired by a previous scandal.
According to the BBC, Haya’s decision to run away to London came when she learned new details of the way another princess — her step-daughter Princess Latifa — was apprehended after trying to run.
Latifa ran away from the royal court in 2018, but was caught and brought back. INSIDER spoke to the woman who helped her plan the escape attempt: Tiina Jauhiainen.
On February 24, 2018, Princess Latifa fled Dubai with the help of her martial arts teacher and a self-styled former spy from France.
Nine days later, on March 4, Emirati commandos and the Indian coastguard caught up with them off the island of Goa, 1,780 miles away, bringing the escape attempt to an abrupt end.
Since then, Latifa has made no mention of her attempt to flee, and has been seen only in staged photographs released by the emir’s government.
For nearly 10 years, Tiina Jauhiainen, a Norwegian living in Dubai, taught Latifa capoeria, a rhythmical Afro-Brazilian martial art, at the royal sports centre. They became close friends.
“When she started a new hobby she treated it like it was her work, because she was forbidden from work or study, so it becomes her life, like a routine,” Jauhiainen told INSIDER in an interview.
The pair saw each other daily, and eventually formed a bond. “It was hard for her to trust anyone after whats happened to her,” Jauhiainen said.
After years of companionship Latifa, finally told Jauhiainen about abuse she claimed to have experienced at the hands of her father Sheikh Mohammed, and that she wanted to flee.
“I had asked her indirectly if she wanted to run away, but it wasn’t until 2016 that she revealed exactly what had happened to her.”
The details were recorded in a video sent to lawyers, meant to be released if her escape failed. In it, Latifa says she was imprisoned for three years, beaten, and tortured. She said the abuse was on her father’s orders.
In August 2017, at Latifa’s request, Jauhiainen flew to the Philippines to meet a man who said he was a former French spy — Hervé Jaubert.
Latifa had conversed with Jaubert by email for years, after reading a book he’d written about his time as a spy, called “Escape to Dubai.” She was inspired.
“Latifa had been in contact with him for seven years,” Jauhiainen told INSIDER. “She had read ‘Escape to Dubai,’ that’s where she got the idea.”
Latifa offered him €350,000 ($390,000) — all her savings — in return for a foolproof rescue.
On February 24, Jauhiainen and Latifa met at a coffee shop in Dubai. They entered the bathroom, Jauhiainen said, ditched both their phones and abayas, got in Jauhiainen’s car, and headed for Muscat, the capital of neighboring Oman.
On reaching the coast, Latifa and Jauhiainen climbed on jet skis and rode 20 miles to meet Jaubert on his yacht, the Nostromo.
“It was likely her first time on a boat, with quite high waves. We didn’t have time to think, except to just reach the boat,” Jauhiainen said.
“We both thought ‘we’re not close enough to being anywhere near safe’.”
On March 4, after 10 days at sea, they were proved right.
Emirati commandos and the Indian coastguard caught up with them, 1,780 miles from Dubai.
Boarding at midnight, Emirati forces located Latifa and Jauhiainen, separated them, and bound them.
“They blindfolded me, handcuffed me, they told me they were taking me to a place where al-Qaeda are held, which was obviously scary.”
“They threatened to shoot my brains out,” she told INSIDER.
Latifa had been in contact with Radha Stirling, a human rights advocate, during the escape.
Stirling said the last WhatsApp voice message she recieved from Latifa said: “Radha please help me, there are men outside.”
The Nostromo was refueled and sailed back to Dubai. Jauhiainen was taken to the al-Aweer national security prison, she said, and told: “No one even knows you are now in the UAE.”
She was kept there for two and a half weeks, she told INSIDER, and was threatened with either death penalty or life in prison.
Unknown to Jauhiainen, Latifa’s video she filmed in case of emergency was released, and had gone viral.
Such was its impact, Jauhiainen was let go. “I had no idea what happened on the outside,”she told INSIDER. “Latifa’s video went viral, even the British government got involved.”
“They took me to airport, and I signed a NDA which said I was never to speak with the family again.”
The story re-emerged this July, when Sheikh Mohammed was taken to the UK High Court by his estranged wife Princess Haya, who sued for custody of her two children.
The court case has refocused attention onto Latifa, and resurfaced accusations of torture and detention in the royal household.
The BBC had reported the reason Princess Haya chose to flee Dubai was because she had learned new and disturbing information about Princess Latifa’s escape.
The Emirati embassy in London, when asked about both cases by INSIDER, said: “This is a private family matter and not one which the UAE government would involve itself in or comment on.”