Dubai ruler ordered hacking of ex-wife’s phone during custody battle, court finds

Sheikh’s staff left princess feeling ‘hunted and unsafe’ by trying to buy mansion next door

Jane Dalton
Wednesday 06 October 2021 17:31
<p>Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum at Royal Ascot in 2019</p>

Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum at Royal Ascot in 2019

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The ruler of Dubai authorised the hacking of his former wife and her lawyers’ phones with multi-million-pound spyware during a legal battle over their two children, the High Court has found.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum gave his “express or implied authority” for the phone of his sixth wife, Princess Haya bint Al Hussein to be infiltrated with Pegasus spyware the court ruled.

Those working for him also tried to buy a mansion next door to Haya’s estate near London, which the court ruled was an intimidatory action that left her feeling hunted, unsafe and as though she “could not breathe any more”.

The vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, who was previously found to have conducted a “campaign of fear and intimidation” against Princess Haya, authorised the use of Pegasus on Princess Haya’s solicitors, her personal assistant and two members of her security team, it was found.

Last year, the court concluded that Sheikh Mohammed had abducted two of his daughters, mistreated them and held them against their will.

The use of Pegasus, which is manufactured by the NSO Group and sold exclusively to nation states, came to light last August when Cherie Blair tipped off Princess Haya’s solicitor, Baroness Shackleton, that she may have been hacked, the court heard.

Mrs Blair, the wife of former prime minister Tony Blair and then an NSO adviser, contacted the Conservative peer – who has previously represented the Prince of Wales and Sir Paul McCartney – after she was told that the software may have been “misused”.

NSO told the court it could not disclose who its customers were, but confirmed that an unnamed customer’s contract had been terminated within weeks of the discovery.

On Wednesday, the High Court published a number of rulings in the continuing case between Sheikh Mohammed, 72, and Princess Haya, 47, the half-sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan, over their two children, Jalila, 13, and Zayed, nine.

“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.

The sheikh had denied the allegations of hacking, and his lawyers had 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.”

Mohammed and Haya have been involved in a long, bitter and expensive custody battle since she fled to Britain with their two children. She said she feared for her safety amid suspicions that she had had an affair with one of her British bodyguards.

“I do not feel that I can move freely forward as things stand now, while I am, and feel, hunted all the time, and I am forced to look over my shoulder at every moment of the day,” the British-educated princess said in one witness statement.

The legal costs of the case have run into millions of pounds, involving some of Britain’s most prominent lawyers. The costs of one appeal alone was cited by the court as costing £2.5m.

The sheikh initially sought to have the children brought back to Dubai, but has suffered repeated defeats in the courts.

In a judgment released on Wednesday, Judge McFarlane ruled that the children should live with their mother.

Additional reporting by agencies