Dubai leader ordered ex-wife, lawyer’s phones hacked: UK court

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum rejected the allegations by the court saying they presented an ‘incomplete picture’.

Prime Minister and Vice-President of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed
The latest ruling comes 19 months after a court said Al Maktoum abducted two of his daughters and mistreated them [File: Christopher Pike/Reuters]

Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ordered the phones of his ex-wife and her lawyers to be hacked as part of a “sustained campaign of intimidation and threat” during the custody battle over their children, England’s High Court ruled.

Al Maktoum used the sophisticated Pegasus software, developed by Israeli firm NSO for states to counter national security risks, to hack the phones of Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, and some of those closely connected to her, according to the ruling.

Those working for him also tried to buy a mansion next door to Haya’s estate near the British capital, intimidatory action the court ruled that left her feeling hunted, unsafe, and like she “cannot breathe anymore”.

The Dubai leader on Wednesday rejected the findings by the UK court saying the ruling was unfair and based on an incomplete picture.

“I have always denied the allegations made against me and I continue to do so. These matters concern supposed operations of state security,” Al Maktoum said in a statement.

“Neither the Emirate of Dubai nor the UAE are party to these proceedings and they did not participate in the hearing. The findings are, therefore, inevitably based on an incomplete picture.”

‘Total abuse of trust’

The latest ruling comes 19 months after the court concluded Al Maktoum had abducted two of his daughters, mistreated them, and held them against their will.

“The findings represent a total abuse of trust, and indeed an abuse of power to a significant extent,” Judge Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division in England and Wales, said in his ruling.

Al Maktoum’s lawyers argued other countries in the Middle East could have been to blame.

“The father has no knowledge of any such activity taking place,” David Pannick, his lawyer, told the court. “He has not authorised it or instructed, encouraged or in any way suggested any other person should use NSO or any software in this way.”

Princess Haya bint Al Hussein and her lawyer Baroness Fiona Shackleton arrive at the High Court in London in February 2020 [File: Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

Al Maktoum, 72, and Haya, 47, have been involved in a long, bitter and expensive custody battle since she fled to the UK with their two children, Jalila, 13, and Zayed, 9. She said she feared for her safety amid suspicions that she had an affair with one of her British bodyguards.

Among those targeted by the hacking was Haya’s lawyer Fiona Shackleton, a member of the UK’s House of Lords who represented British heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles in his divorce from his late first wife Princess Diana.

The activity came to light in August last year after Shackleton was urgently tipped off by Cherie Blair, the wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair, that she and Haya had been hacked, the court was told.

Blair is also a prominent lawyer who worked as an external adviser for NSO.

At the same time, a cybersecurity expert from the University of Toronto’s internet watchdog Citizen Lab, which researches digital surveillance, also alerted Haya’s lawyers after tracking the hacking, the court heard.

Once the hack was uncovered, NSO cancelled its contract with the UAE, Haya’s lawyers said. The Israeli firm said it could not immediately comment on the case, but said it took action if it received evidence of misuse of Pegasus.

Shackleton and Blair declined to comment.

Source: Reuters