The ruler of Dubai orchestrated the abduction of his daughter from UK streets and has held her captive for the last 20 years, a High Court judge has found in a bombshell ruling.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 70, ordered his men to kidnap his teenage daughter Sheikh Shamsa in Cambridge in 2000, before flying her out of the country from his horse-racing headquarters in Newmarket, the court ruled.
Shamsa, now 38, had been attempting to stay in the UK, but once returned to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) she has been “deprived of her liberty for much if not all of the past two decades”, Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division of the UK High Court has ruled.
The Sheikh, a personal friend to the British Royal Family, also ordered his men to stop another daughter, Sheikh Latifa, from fleeing Dubai in a daring undercover mission, the judge found.
He said Latifa, now 35, had tried to escape in 2018 but was thwarted after nine days on the run, when Indian special forces boarded her boat off the coast of Goa and captured her.
A friend said Latifa was “dragged away kicking and screaming”, and was heard shouting out: “You can’t get me back alive. Don’t take me back. Shoot me here don’t take me back”.
Sir Andrew made a series of damaging findings of facts against the Sheikh, who is an international powerbroker in his role as ruler of Dubai and vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, during his custody battle with estranged wife Princess Haya bint al-Hussein.
Today’s ruling will be embarrassing for the Royals, and pose questions for the government who hold information on the kidnap of Shamsa but have refused to disclose it to the court for fear of damaging international relations.
The Princess, 45, fled to the UK last April with her two children, Sheikha Jalila, 12, and Sheikh Zayed, seven, sparking a court bid by Sheikh Mohammed for them to be returned to Dubai.
However when the allegations against him were aired in private proceedings attended by members of the British media, he mounted an expensive legal battle to keep Sir Andrew’s rulings veiled in secrecy. He said this was done to protect the safety and welfare of his children.
The Sheikh insists Shamsa and Latifa live a happy private life in Dubai, he denies claims of law-breaking, and he says the case is only about “deeply personal and private family matters".
A statement from his representatives 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.”
In his ruling, Sir Andrew found most of the Princess’ allegations against the Sheikh were proven, and he also ruled that she had been the victim of a “campaign of fear and intimidation” before and after fleeing from the family’s palatial home.
Sir Andrew said Princess Haya had woken up to find a gun next to her bed, the Sheikh’s men had threatened to take her away to a remote prison, and she had been sent menacing messages by her husband and his associates.
A video had also been posted online of the Sheikh performing a sword-waving “traditional Bedouin dance of victory over one’s enemies”, which the Princess took as a threat.
“I find that the cumulative effect of each of these episodes was to place the mother in a position of great fear leading her to conclude that she had no option but to leave Dubai with the children as she did”, said the judge.
“The father has therefore acted in a manner from the end of 2018 which has been aimed at intimidating and frightening the mother, and that he has encouraged others to do so on his behalf.”
The ruling makes findings of fact that the Sheikh has broken UK and international laws as well as international maritime law and internationally-accepted human rights norms.
Sir Andrew said Sheikh Shamsa, then 18, detailed her abduction in Cambridge in a letter, saying: “I am being watched all the time so I’ll get straight to the point. I was caught by my father, he managed to track me down through someone I kept in touch with.
“I was caught on the 19th August, in Cambridge. He sent four Arab men to catch me, they were carrying guns and threatening me, they drove me to my father’s place in Newmarket, there they gave me two injections and a handful of tablets, the very next morning a helicopter came and flew me to the plane, which took me back to Dubai.”
She believed a friend’s phone had been bugged and pleaded for UK Home Office intervention, adding: “I haven’t seen anyone, not even the man you call my father. I told you this would happen.
“I know these people, they have all the money, they have all the power, they think they can do anything.”
Sir Andrew ruled he could not be sure the men were carrying guns or the Sheikha had been drugged, but he found she had been “taken in a car by three or four men who were working for her father, to his home in Newmarket.
“Shamsa was held overnight at the Newmarket premises by the three men”, said the judge. “On the following morning, 20 August 2000, at 5am the three men and Shamsa departed from Newmarket in a helicopter that had arrived the previous evening. They flew to Deauville in France and then transferred to a jet for the onward flight to Dubai.”
He backed Latifa’s suggestion that her sister is now “confined to one room and constantly supervised by nurses and a psychiatrist”.
Latifa made her own attempt, with a confidante, to escape from Dubai, driving over the border to Oman on 24 February 2018 before taking a dinghy to a yacht, named the Nostromo, the ruling said.
However her friend told the court Indian special forces boarded the boat on March 4, setting off smoke grenades to subdue the crew before dragging away the Sheikha.
“Latifa’s last words that I heard as she was dragged away kicking and screaming were words to the effect that ‘You can’t get me back alive. Don’t take me back. Shoot me here don’t take me back’ in English”, said the friend, who claimed she was also held captive in degrading conditions and interrogated.
In a video about the escape plan which subsequently ended up on YouTube, Latifa said: “I’m making this video because it could be the last video I make, yeah.
“Pretty soon I’m going to be leaving somehow and I am not so sure of the outcome, but I’m 99% positive it will work. And if doesn’t then this video can help me because all my father cares about is his reputation.
“He will kill people to protect his own reputation. He only cares about himself and his ego. So this video could save my life. And if you are watching this video, it’s not such a good thing either I’m dead, or I’m in a very very very bad situation.”
The judge found: “There is no ground for doubting that it was indeed Latifa’s settled ambition to escape from Dubai”, saying he believed it was a “capture” rather than a “rescue” when special forces intervened.
“She was pleading for the soldiers to kill her rather than face the prospect of going back to her family in Dubai. Drawing these matters together I conclude, on the balance of probability, that Latifa’s account of her motives for wishing to leave Dubai represents the truth. She was plainly desperate to extricate herself from her family and prepared to undertake a dangerous mission in order to do so.”
During the secret court hearings, a senior police chief gave evidence to support the mother’s claims that she fears for her safety, as she insisted the Sheikh’s poems published online had been used to intimidate her.
The court heard the couple’s marriage deteriorated towards the end of 2018 when the Sheikh discovered the Princess had been having an affair with a British bodyguard. He secretly divorced her under Sharia Law on the February 7, 2019, “deliberately” choosing the 20th anniversary of her father’s death to do it.
All the revelations can be published today after a successful media application to shine a light on family proceedings which are normal held in private. This morning the Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch attempted by the Sheikh to avoid publicity.
Justin Rushbrooke QC, for the Princess, said the Sheikh had “adopted a pick-and-choose attitude to his participation in these proceedings” and refused to come to give evidence.
The Sheikh, through his legal team, denied the allegations against him, insisting he had organised a “search” for Shamsa when she was missing and at risk of kidnap
He claimed Latifa had been taken away in a plot to extort money out of him, and he told the court that neither of his daughters wanted to take part in court proceedings, despite being offered independent legal advice.
In her initial submissions to the court, Princess Haya said she had hoped the issues could be solved privately and recognised a high-profile court fight would “damage the relations between the royal court of Jordan, Jordan itself, Sheikh Mohammed’s household and wider family, Dubai , the UAE, and the UK.”
She said she had been subjected to “lurid reporting” and “character assassinations”, with a public impression that she had simply taken the Sheikh’s money and fled Dubai following an extra-marital affair.
Making his decision to make the rulings public, Sir Andrew said he needed to “correct the false narrative” despite accepting he would “unleash a media storm”, adding: “The landscape of public opinion needs to change so that it is more firmly founded on the true facts.”
The court proceedings concerning the welfare of the estranged couple’s children will continue in private. The judge has said he cannot be sure that the children will not also be taken to Dubai against their will in the future.