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Billionaire ruler of Dubai hatched sinister phone hacking operation to spy on his runaway wife

The billionaire ruler of Dubai launched an illegal phone hacking operation on British soil to snoop on his runaway wife and her team of lawyers, it can be revealed today.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, 72, a friend of the Queen and close UK ally, ignored British laws to ‘hunt’ Princess Haya, 47, after she fled to London, telling friends she was in fear of her life, the High Court has found.

Haya’s high-profile solicitor Baroness [Fiona] Shackleton, a Tory peer who famously acted for Sir Paul McCartney in his divorce, was among those targeted in the astonishing cyber hacking mission.

She reported her fears to Black Rod, the Monarch’s representative in the House of Lords, saying that her ‘Parliamentary email, my own email, my WhatsApp messages, my pictures and my texts are all visible to somebody else’.

In a surprising twist, the sinister black ops operation ‘more probable than not’ ordered by Sheikh Mohammed was rumbled by Cherie Blair, QC. Sheikh Mohammed has denied any knowledge of the hacking.

The barrister wife of former PM Tony Blair was working for a secretive Israeli firm which makes the military-grade Pegasus spyware used by Dubai’s intelligence service and several other governments – and tipped off her fellow British lawyers that their phones were being tapped.

Not content with the spying operation, the Sheikh even resorted to trying to buy a huge £30m estate next door to Haya’s Berkshire bolthole to keep even closer tabs on her and the couple’s two children, the High Court was told.

Among the astonishing revelations: 

  • Haya feels ‘hunted and haunted’ and lives in fear of her ex-husband’s henchmen ‘snatching’ back their children Princess Jalila, 13, and Prince Zayed, nine;
  • Cherie Blair was a legal adviser to Israeli tech firm NSO which makes Pegasus – a powerful surveillance spyware system bought by the UAE government;
  • Mrs Blair blew the whistle to Baroness Shackleton in a phone call saying she had ‘some important information’;
  • Associates of the sheikh, who is also Prime Minister of United Arab Emirates (UAE), tried to buy a £30million English manor house to spy on Haya, the High Court was told;
  • When she begged the court to ban him being near her house, he complained it might stop him visiting Windsor Castle.

Princess Haya

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (left) hacked phones to snoop on his runway wife Princess Haya (right) after she fled to London, the High Court has found

The Sheikh's associates secretly tried to snap up English manor house Parkwood on 'the most expensive field in Britain', the HIgh Court heard

The Sheikh’s associates secretly tried to snap up English manor house Parkwood on ‘the most expensive field in Britain’, the HIgh Court heard 

The move made the Princess feel 'hunted and haunted' in her 12-bedroom mansion Castlewood House next door, the court heard

The move made the Princess feel ‘hunted and haunted’ in her 12-bedroom mansion Castlewood House next door, the court heard 

Cherie Blair ‘played crucial role in uncovering plot’  

In a surprising twist, the sinister black ops operation ‘more probable than not’ ordered by Sheikh Mohammed was rumbled by Cherie Blair, QC, the High Court heard. 

The barrister wife of former PM Tony Blair was working for a secretive Israeli firm which makes the military-grade Pegasus spyware used by Dubai’s intelligence service and several other governments – and tipped off her fellow British lawyers that their phones were being tapped. 

Haya’s high-profile solicitor Baroness [Fiona] Shackleton, a Tory peer who famously acted for Sir Paul McCartney in his divorce, was among those targeted.

The involvement of Mrs Blair in the case is ironic because her Prime Minister husband’s Labour government allegedly shut down a serious criminal inquiry into the armed kidnapping of his runaway daughter from Cambridgeshire in 2000. 

He sent his henchmen to abduct teenager Princess Shamsa at gunpoint and inject her with sedatives.  

The sheikh’s associates secretly tried to snap up English manor house Parkwood on ‘the most expensive field in Britain’, making the Princess feel ‘hunted and haunted’ in her 12-bedroom mansion Castlewood House next door, fearing that her children could be snatched from her by the Sheikh, the High Court heard.

When she asked the judge to impose a large ‘exclusion zone’ around her own home to stop him stalking her, the sheikh complained it would impede his access to Windsor Castle and Ascot racecourse.

The 77-acre Parkwood estate, just outside London, is within driving distance of both sites.

The Parkwood site was dubbed Britain’s most expensive plot when it went on the market in 2014 for £30million.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were among those said to have been interested.

It includes a manor house, a picturesque lake and formal gardens – but the sheikh wanted it for his surveillance teams to spy on his former wife and their two children, Princess Jalila, 13, and Prince Zayed, nine, next-door, her lawyers told the High Court.

The Court accepted there was no evidence that the sheikh, or anyone acting on his behalf, had been in close proximity to Castlewood House.

Sheikh Maktoum, one of the world’s richest men, is already an international pariah for the armed kidnapping of his daughters – Princess Shamsa from the streets of Britain, and then Princess Latifa from her yacht when she too tried to flee Dubai.

In April 2019, when the sheikh’s sixth and youngest wife, Princess Haya, found out what had happened to them, she ran away to Britain in fear of her life with the couple’s two children.

In the two-and-a-half years since, she and the sheikh have been waging a monumental battle at the High Court in what has become probably the most expensive child custody wrangle in UK history.  

Cherie Blair

Baroness Shackleton

In a bizarre twist, Cherie Blair (left) helped exposes the hacking operation, which targeted – among others – Haya’s lawyer Baroness Shackleton 

The ruler of Dubai is a UK ally and is seen shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth on Derby Day at Epsom Racecourse in 2011

The ruler of Dubai is a UK ally and is seen shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth on Derby Day at Epsom Racecourse in 2011 

When she asked the judge to impose a large 'exclusion zone' around her own home to stop him stalking her, the sheikh complained it would impede his access to Windsor Castle and Ascot racecourse. The 77-acre Parkwood estate, just outside London, is within driving distance of both sites

When she asked the judge to impose a large ‘exclusion zone’ around her own home to stop him stalking her, the sheikh complained it would impede his access to Windsor Castle and Ascot racecourse. The 77-acre Parkwood estate, just outside London, is within driving distance of both sites

Haya ‘fully justified in fearing children would be snatched’ 

Princess Haya is fully justified in fearing her children will be snatched from their English country home by their father’s henchmen using a helicopter, the judge said.

Sheikh Maktoum, the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, poses a ‘very significant threat’ to his ex-wife and Jalila, 13, and Zayed, nine, and could abduct them as he did their half-sisters Princess Shamsa and Princess Latifa.

Shamsa was kidnapped at gunpoint in Cambridgeshire in 2000 after she ran away from the family’s Longcross estate in Surrey. She was sedated then whisked out of the UK by helicopter. Incredibly, a kidnap investigation by Cambridgeshire Police was allegedly shut down by Foreign Office ministers as a favour to the oil-rich nation.

Then when Shamsa’s sister Princess Latifa tried to flee Dubai in 2018, her ‘coercive and controlling father’ sent commandos to abduct her from her getaway yacht, the court has found.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the High Court’s family division, said Sheikh Maktoum had waged a campaign of fear and intimidation against his ex-wife, and said: ‘In circumstances when it takes but a moment to snatch a child from a garden or a country lane…the need to prevent the father, or those acting on his behalf, from coming close to the mother’s property is, in my view, fully made out.’

He added Princess Haya firmly believed that, ‘were he to spot an opportunity to do so, the father would not hesitate to attempt to abduct the two children in order to repatriate them to Dubai. She also believes that her own life and wellbeing are at extreme risk because her actions have greatly angered the father.’

The judge added: ‘When Sheikha Shamsa was abducted from Cambridge in August 2000, she was driven to one of his properties in Newmarket before being taken by helicopter to France, where she was put on a private plane and flown to Dubai.’

Against that background, he said Haya was therefore ‘justified’ in regarding the sheikh’s attempt to buy the property next door as ‘a very significant threat to her security, both in terms of providing an opportunity for 24-hour close surveillance and as a close-to-hand transport hub for a helicopter’.

One of Princess Haya’s QCs, Tim Otty, told the judge: ‘The children are exposed to grave risk. By grave risk, I mean that fate suffered by Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa.’ Charles Geekie QC added that the judge hardly needed reminding that hacking Princess Latifa’s phone had led to her being tracked down and abducted as she tried to flee for a new life in the West.

 

The hearings have been held in private but today, following an application by the Daily Mail and other media, the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane allowed details of the case to be made public. 

Sir Andrew said: ‘It is more probable than not that the surveillance of the six phones…was carried out by servants or agents of the father…with [his] express or implied authority.’ 

He added: ‘The father, who is the Head of Government of the UAE, is prepared to use the arm of the State to achieve what he regards as right. He has harassed and intimidated the mother both before her departure to England and since. 

‘He is prepared to countenance those acting on his behalf doing so unlawfully within the UK.’

Castlewood House, where Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson briefly lived early in their marriage, was the English mansion home of King Hussein of Jordan – Princess Haya’s late father – who bequeathed it to her.

It has a swimming pool, a tennis court and a private wood, but Princess Haya declared ‘it feels like the walls are closing in on me’ when she learnt in autumn last year that a secretive trust was negotiating to purchase neighbouring Parkwood for the benefit of Sheikh Maktoum. 

Sprawling Parkwood is on a slight hill overlooking Castlewood.

Haya told the judge she was terrified, saying in a written statement: ‘I am and feel hunted all the time, and I am forced to look over my shoulder at every moment of the day. It feels as if I am being stalked. It is hugely oppressive. 

‘It is completely overwhelming. I simply will not feel safe even out in our own garden.

‘At no time has Sheikh Mohammed even stopped to consider the incredible strain such a purchase around Castlewood would put on the security we have or the effect it would have on the children.

‘I feel like I am defending myself against a whole ‘state’. Even in our own home they will be towering over us. I feel like I cannot breathe anymore. It feels like being suffocated.’ 

Her QC Charles Geekie told the court Parkwood was ‘in a prime position for direct or electronic surveillance of the Castlewood home – it could not be closer’, and said the surveillance on Princess Haya’s mobile phone had made her ‘feel both hunted and haunted’, adding: ‘It is the plainest evidence of fear – rational and objective fear – against a background of justified fear.’ 

The involvement of Mrs Blair in the case is ironic because her Prime Minister husband’s Labour government allegedly shut down a serious criminal inquiry into the armed kidnapping of his runaway daughter from Cambridgeshire in 2000.  

He sent his henchmen to abduct teenager Princess Shamsa at gunpoint and inject her with sedatives. 

After marrying Sheikh Maktoum in 2004, to become his sixth and youngest wife, Haya initially believed her husband’s explanations of what had happened to the two princesses, namely that they had been ‘rescued’ and were now safe with the family.  

The Parkwood Estate, set deep in the heart of the Surrey countryside, includes a picturesque lake and formal gardens

The Parkwood Estate, set deep in the heart of the Surrey countryside, includes a picturesque lake and formal gardens

Haya's QC Charles Geekie told the court Parkwood was 'in a prime position for direct or electronic surveillance of the Castlewood home - it could not be closer'

Haya’s QC Charles Geekie told the court Parkwood was ‘in a prime position for direct or electronic surveillance of the Castlewood home – it could not be closer’

But by early 2019 she had become suspicious and voiced her concerns. She had also begun an adulterous affair with her British bodyguard, former soldier Russell Flowers.

A campaign of intimidation by Sheikh Mohammed’s agents began and the court heard that a gun was twice placed on her pillow with the safety catch off. A helicopter landed outside her house with a threat to remove her to a remote desert prison.

At an earlier hearing judge ruled that ‘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’.

In April 2019 Princess Haya fled to Britain, taking her two children with her. The court heard how veiled threats from Sheikh Mohammed had left her terrified for her own safety, as well as fears that her children could be abducted and forcibly returned to Dubai.

In May 2019 she said he told her: ‘You and the children will never be safe in England’. He published a poem entitled: ‘You lived, you died’.

In a statement after the publication of the High Court and Court of Appeal judgments, Sheikh Mohammed said: ‘I have always denied the allegations made against me and I continue to do so. These matters concern supposed operations of State security.

‘As a Head of Government involved in private family proceedings, it was not appropriate for me to provide evidence on such sensitive matters either personally or via my advisers in a foreign court.

‘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.

‘In addition, the findings were based on evidence that was not disclosed to me or my advisers. I therefore maintain that they were made in a manner which was unfair.

‘I ask that the media respect the privacy of our children and do not intrude into their lives in the UK.’   

Before going on the run herself and being captured in 2018, Latifa recorded a chilling video claiming her elder sister Shamsa (pictured in an undated photo) was kept on medication to ‘control her mind’ that had ‘made her like a zombie’

Sheikh Maktoum poses a ‘very significant threat’ to his ex-wife and Jalila, 13, and Zayed, nine, and could abduct them as he did their half-sisters Princess Shamsa (pictured) and Princess Latifa, the court heard 

Sheikh Mohammed with Princess Haya during the World Government Summit 2017 at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai

Sheikh Mohammed with Princess Haya during the World Government Summit 2017 at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai

Revealed: Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum tried to buy a £30m English manor house on ‘the most expensive field in Britain’ – just to spy on his runaway wife in her Surrey bolt hole next door, High Court hears 

Sheikh Mohammed’s associates secretly tried to purchase a £30million-plus English manor house on ‘the most expensive field in Britain’ – just to spy on his fugitive wife in her luxurious refuge next door, the High Court heard.

Princess Haya said she felt ‘hunted and haunted’ in her 12-bedroom mansion Castlewood House in Surrey as her billionaire ex-husband ‘stalked’ her with the attempted purchase of neighbouring Parkwood estate, it is claimed.

Haya also discovered four other properties in the area had been purchased on behalf of the Dubai ruling family.

Last November, she asked the High Court to impose a large exclusion zone around her home, which is on the edge of Windsor Great Park, to stop the Sheikh or his henchmen coming near.

In response the sheikh – a horse race-loving friend of the Queen – complained it would impede his access to Windsor Castle and Ascot racecourse.

The next day, Princess Haya’s team reduced the proposed zone to an area around 100 metres of Castlewood, and this was granted by the judge.   

At 77 acres, Parkwood was dubbed Britain’s most expensive plot when it went on the market in 2014 for £30million, a figure which doubtless will have increased since.

Plans were approved for a huge 10-bedroom home costing £15m, with estimates that the whole estate would be worth more than £100m.

It is not known if the house was eventually built.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were among those said to have been interested in the estate at the time.

It includes a manor house, a picturesque lake and formal gardens – yet the sheikh’s interest was apparently based solely on its location.

He wanted a base for his surveillance teams to spy on next-door Castlewood House, the home-in-exile of his former wife and their two children, Princess Jalila, 13, and Prince Zayed, nine, her lawyers told the High Court.

But the billionaire, who owns properties and racehorses in England, said the proposed no-go zone of several miles was a serious curtailment of his freedom and would hinder him visiting places such as Windsor Castle. He has previously been a regular there, to take tea with the Queen.

His lawyers also listed Ascot racecourse, Windsor Great Park, the Guards Polo Club – which they said hosted ‘many important polo events’ – and the Royal Chapel of All Saints, ‘which is regularly used by Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family for royal weddings’.

Lord Pannick QC, for the sheikh, said in a written submission: ‘The father may want or need to travel to any number of these locations’, and branded the proposed exclusion zone draconian and unjustified.

The next day, Princess Haya’s team reduced the proposed zone to ban the sheikh and his associates from coming within 100 metres of Castlewood, and this was granted by the judge.

Sir Andrew’s ‘non molestation order’ dated November 26 last year also bans Sheikh Maktoum from buying Parkwood or any other properties in the vicinity.

Lord Pannick told the court there was never any evidence of the sheikh being in proximity to Castlewood, he never had any intention of living in Parkwood and the orders were ‘unprecedented and unnecessary’.

But the judge said Princess Haya was ‘entirely justified in saying that she feels mightily intimidated and frightened’.  

 

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