RICHARD KAY: Can the Queen turn a blind eye to UAE sheikh's cruelty?

RICHARD KAY: They’ve long shared a deep bond over horses, but after this week’s revelations of kidnap and ‘torture’ by Dubai’s billionaire ruler, can the Queen turn a blind eye to cruelty?

Of one thing we can be sure. When the Queen is driven along the Epsom Downs racecourse on Derby Day in June, one man will be watching with more than usual concern: her fellow racing enthusiast and Dubai’s autocratic ruler Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum.

Unlike at Royal Ascot later that month, where in the past Sheikh Mohammed, 70, has shared the royal carriage, the Queen does not have official guests on Derby Day. But as the owner of Pinatubo, the three-year-old colt who is already leading the betting as an early favourite for the classic race, there is every chance the oil-rich sheikh and his entourage will be there in numbers.

The question is just what, or rather how, will the Queen react? In the course of her near 70-year reign she has overcome any number of awkward public encounters with despots, dictators and even former terrorists. But Sheikh Mohammed the ruler of Dubai, has been a long-standing and valued friend.

Now the judgment of the High Court has revealed him to be a vindictive tyrant with not just scant regard for human rights, but also someone who has ridden roughshod over the laws of the country which for years has made him welcome.

Pictured: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Queen Elizabeth attend the Royal Windsor Endurance event in Windsor Great Park in May 2014

The court heard how the billionaire sheikh kidnapped two of his daughters – one from the streets of Britain – and waged a ‘campaign of fear and intimidation’ against Princess Haya, the youngest of his six wives, after she began an affair with her British bodyguard before she fled from Dubai to the UK with their two children.

A bitter ten-month courtroom battle even heard claims that the couple’s daughter Jalila, 12, would be forced into an arranged marriage to the ruthless Mohammad bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the man accused of ordering the murder in Turkey of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The forced marriage accusation was later found to be untrue by the High Court.

The public airing of these astonishing allegations – which could cause significant diplomatic difficulties with Britain’s allies in the Middle East – is likely to mean a delicate and uncomfortable encounter between monarch and sheikh.

Racing and a shared love of horses have long cemented the family ties between the Windsors and the Maktoums. Eleven years ago Sheikh Mohammed gave the Queen four yearlings, one of which, Carlton House, came close to delivering her longed-for Derby winner in 2011 but ultimately finished third. 

Pictured: The Queen presents Sheikh Maktoum with his owner’s trophy after Godolphin won The Gold Cup Royal Ascot race meeting, Ladies Day, Berkshire, June 2012

In return she gave him one of her thoroughbreds, Highland Glen, as a present. He had wanted to buy it but because of fears of embarrassment if the horse did not win again, she insisted on giving it to him. 

The friendship extends quite separately to the sheikh’s estranged wife Princess Haya, whose explosive evidence in court helped expose the brutality of her husband. Haya’s Anglophile father King Hussein of Jordan was a warm and staunch ally of the UK and a close friend of the royals. Prince Charles attended his funeral in 1999.

The princess, an accomplished horsewoman who rode for her country in the Sydney Olympics, lavished praise on the Queen when presenting her with the International Equestrian Federation’s first ever lifetime achievement award.

‘She is a true horsewoman who rides whenever state business allows,’ the princess declared, adding that her ‘knowledge of breeding and bloodlines is incredible’.

It was against this backdrop of kinship and common interests that the Queen found herself unwittingly drawn into the sensational drama that has played out in the High Court between the sheikh and his wife. 

By Sam Greenhill for the Daily Mail and Henry Martin for MailOnline

Ministers helped a billionaire sheikh get away with the kidnap of his daughter from the streets of Britain, the High Court has heard, and now British authorities are facing pressure to bring the Gulf state monarch to justice.

The ruler of Dubai, a friend of the Queen and close UK ally, ordered henchmen to abduct Princess Shamsa from Cambridge in 2000, a judge found.

The teenager said armed bodyguards grabbed her, injected her with sedatives and rendered her to Dubai, where she was tortured.

Yet when Cambridgeshire police launched a criminal probe, it was allegedly shut down amid ‘interference’ by the Foreign Office – as a diplomatic favour.

In an astonishing ruling, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, one of the world’s richest men, is today also exposed as having waged a campaign of ‘fear and intimidation’ against his youngest wife, Princess Haya, who fled to Britain last year fearing that he would kill her.

The court found he masterminded behaviour which, on the balance of probabilities, potentially runs ‘contrary to the criminal law of England and Wales, international law and internationally accepted human rights norms’.

Now for the first time, the alleged kidnap cover-up under Tony Blair’s government of 2000 can be reported.

At the time, Labour was supposedly pursuing an ‘ethical foreign policy’. But now it is alleged the then foreign secretary Robin Cook, who died in 2005, effectively shut down a serious criminal inquiry into a helpless girl’s kidnapping.

Shamsa had begged British detectives to save her, but they were forced to drop the case.

As I revealed in July last year, only days after fleeing the Gulf with her two young children for London, where she has been holed up in an £85million mansion opposite Kensington Palace, Princess Haya met the Queen privately for tea at Windsor Castle.

The meeting took place two weeks before the sheikh began legal moves against his estranged wife to try to get his children returned to Dubai, an action he has since dropped. 

Yet during Ascot week in June the Queen was rubbing shoulders with the horse-owning sheikh in the paddock, presenting him with the trophy as winner of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

Ever since, she and the rest of the Royal Family have made strenuous efforts to avoid being accused of taking sides. At one stage reports emanating from the Gulf claimed that Princess Haya had sought sanctuary in one of the Queen’s palaces. If true it would have been hugely embarrassing and potentially compromising for the Queen. Aides were swift to deny the claims.

They are now thought to be one of the many fake news items and smears generated on Sheikh Mohammed’s behalf through media contacts to damage his wife’s reputation – and which were described by the judge presiding over the High Court case this week as ‘wholly inaccurate.’

Now that the full details of the case have emerged, questions are being asked if it is right for the Queen – and other royals – to continue their cosy relationship with Sheikh Mohammed. One courtier said: ‘The findings of the court are very disturbing: torture, kidnap and flouting international law cannot be absolved by a mutual love for horse flesh. The issue of course is that these relationships are directed by government policy.’

All the same, the case has not just shone a light on the relationship between the Queen’s family and the sheikh, who is also Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, but on that of the other Arab royal families.

Over the years the British royals have forged the closest of links with the desert kingdoms dotted around the Persian Gulf and the other Middle East monarchies, such as Jordan. There are strategic reasons for this, of course. 

Britain has long been an influential figure in that part of the world and defence contracts struck there are vital to the British Exchequer.

The gas-rich al-Thani family of Qatar, where the World Cup will be held in 2022, have made London their second home and bought up large swathes of the capital. They too have invested heavily in the sport of kings with their holding company, Qatar Investment & Projects Development, becoming Royal Ascot’s commercial partner. 

Saudi Arabia is another ally where Britain has been prepared to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses because of the lure of its spending power. 

A vast staff of Ministry of Defence and civil service personnel is devoted to serving these vital trade relationships but as the former ambassador to Saudi, Simon Collins bluntly put it, the ‘royal-to-royal’ links are ‘making an impact’.

In a speech, the Queen praised the late King Abdullah of Saudi for working towards ‘peace and understanding’ while the country still routinely carries out beheadings.

Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum: the ‘modernising Sheikh’ accused by human-rights activists of ‘torturing political dissidents by electrocution’ and ‘spying’ – as well as ‘running secret detention camps in war-torn Yemen’

Princess Haya is pictured with her husband Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum at Ascot Racecourse in 2008

Sheikh Maktoum is Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and the ruler of the Emirate of Dubai. Since his accession in 2006, he has undertaken sweeping reforms in the UAE’s Government, and has been held responsible for turning Dubai into a wealthy and global mega city. 

The sheikh trained in the military before being appointed to head of the Dubai Police Force and Dubai Defence Force, and was the UAE’s first defence minister in December 1971. In January 1995, he was pronounced Crown Prince by his elder brother Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and embarked upon a policy of tackling Government corruption that led to the arrest, charging, and unusual public ‘naming and shaming’ of 14 officials, including six officers. 

After around one decade of acting as the UAE’s de facto ruler, he became Vice President in January 2006, and Prime Minister of the UAE that February. He has created and encouraged the growth of numerous Dubai businesses and economic assets, including Dubai World, Dubai Holding, and Emirates flight. 

Sheikh Maktoum’s rule has been mired in controversy. Allegations concerning the abduction of two of his children – princesses Shamsa and Latifa – have been brought to the forefront during the high-profile High Court case involving his wife Princess Haya, who fled Dubai in 2019.

He has come under criticism by human-rights groups for alleged infractions, presiding as he does over a judicial system which mandates the execution of criminals by firing squad, hanging, or stoning. Sentencing for flogging – a legal punishment for criminal offences such as adultery, premarital sex, and alcohol consumption – ranges between 80 and 200 lashes. Apostasy from Islam and homosexuality are a crimes punishable by death, while women in the country require permission from male guardians to marry and remarry. 

It is not permitted to be critical of the UAE Government, royal families, officials, and police, in any way. Attempts to demonstrate in public are met with resistance. Human Rights Watch has accused the UAE regime of violating rights to freedom of expression, while US intelligence identified that the UAE had developed its own messaging app – to be used for spying purposes.

The UAE Government has also been accused of kidnapping, detaining, and torturing political opponents and expats, often to extract forced confessions of alleged plots to overthrow the regime. For instance, during the Arab Spring in 2011, at least 100 activists were jailed and tortured. 

The Arab Organisation of Human Rights listed 16 different methods of torture used by the UAE Government, including electrocution. Meanwhile, Amnesty International accused the UAE of running secret prisons in Yemen where prisoners are forcibly disappeared and tortured.

Sheikh Maktoum is pictured shaking hands with the Queen at Ascot racecourse in June 2016 alongside his ex-wife Princess Haya Bint Al-Hussein 

Princess, aged 11, was being lined up for forced marriage to notorious crown prince 


Princess Haya with her daughter Jalila (with face obscured), at Epsom racecourse in June 2018

A princess, 11, was being lined up for a marriage to the notorious crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman, the court heard.

Known as MBS in the desert kingdom, Bin Salman allegedly ordered the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. 

And in January of this year, he was accused of hacking the phone of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos.

Princess Jalila’s’s father Sheikh Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, allegedly discussed arrangements to force her into an arranged marriage with Bin Salman in February 2019, according to her mother Princess Haya, who said it was a key reason she fled to the UK with both of her children.

Bin Salman, 34, who already has one wife, was at the centre of international outrage after he was blamed for the horrific killing of regime critic Mr Khashoggi, who was butchered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

Sheikh Maktoum denied the claims. His QC, Alex Verdan, told the court: ‘None of his children have forced marriages or were betrothed at this age. There has never been such a plan, a person to whom Jalila is betrothed.

‘There have been no forced marriages. That is not what this father does with his daughters – there are about 13 of them – at this age.’

Money, of course, is at the heart of these alliances. Arab rulers have poured millions into many of the royals’ charities and other schemes. And then there are the gifts. Lavish doesn’t come close.

In 1990, Sheikh Mohammed’s father, Sheikh Rashid – then ruler of Dubai – presented the Queen with a fabulous jewellery set of sapphires and diamonds set in gold. It comprised of a necklace, earrings and a brooch.

Rarely are these exchanges of presents witnessed in public, but just occasionally they are. In 1997 Prince Charles was photographed receiving two inlaid jewel boxes through his car window during a visit to Saudi Arabia. His expression was one of awkward pleasure.

And sometimes the gifting has come back to haunt him. Take his close relationship with the ruthless and corrupt oil tycoon Armand Hammer, a major benefactor to the prince’s charities who was exposed after his death aged 92 as having spied for Russia.

Hammer showered Charles and Princess Diana with presents and favours, and after his death in 1990 his files were found to be bulging with hand-written thank-you letters from them both. This, incidentally, despite the fact that Hammer was a fraudster and one of the most corrupt magnates of modern times. No such effusive notes between the royals and the oil monarchs have – so far – come to light.

But gifts to the royals keep on coming. ‘Arab rulers in particular give them huge valuable gifts at the drop of a hat, it’s their custom to be generous,’ says a former royal aide.

Only official gifts given during engagements have to be catalogued, displayed, put on loan or in storage. These range from, books, paintings, pens, statues and even cars. They, however, belong to the nation. The largesse also extends to royal staff. One former Royal Household figure told me that he returned from Dubai with Charles, and six or seven Swiss watches.

So what can the British royals offer in return? The answer lies in the gloss of respectability they bestow just by receiving them. In 2016, for instance, Sheikh Mohammed was photographed in the royal box during Ascot week, a picture that was endlessly reproduced throughout the Arab world.

The Queen has paid two visits to the UAE, the first was on board the Royal Yacht Britannia in 1979 and the most recent in 2010. Sheikh Mohammed, meanwhile has been her house guest at Windsor Castle during Royal Ascot week, which ensured he was part of the televised carriage drive down the racecourse, sitting alongside Prince Andrew. The Queen has also handed the man with a £14billion fortune something infinitely more valuable to him – honours. She has invested him with the knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George.

There are other favours of a more back-scratching kind too. In 2010, an anxious Charles wrote personally to the then Emir of Qatar for help when £3billion of Qatari money was invested in the redevelopment of Chelsea barracks into a modern steel and glass monstrosity of homes.

The prince objected to the architectural plans and, at his request, the Emir helped. The modernist scheme was scrapped at considerable cost, and a new, more conventional building plan was drawn up, of which Charles approved.

Five years ago it emerged that Sheikh Hamad al-Thani, first cousin of the Emir of Qatar, was helping to pay for the upkeep of one of the Royal Family’s personal treasures, the Castle of Mey, the Scottish retreat that Prince Charles inherited on the death of the Queen Mother.

Such generosity was reciprocated – Sheikh Thani, who is the boss of Ascot sponsors Qipco, was appointed vice president of The Friends of the Castle of Mey.

Which us brings us back to Sheikh Mohammed and the upcoming flat-racing season which his horses dominate and which the Queen so passionately loves. 

She will, says a friend, have her ‘official’ face on when she and the sheikh meet, as they inevitably will. 

‘The encounter will be courteous and she will be flattering,’ says a figure who has observed the relationship between the royals and the Arab kingdoms close up. 

‘The Queen has respect for those – and especially the Maktoums – who can turn out a decent racehorse or provide some stock to strengthen her own thoroughbred operation. But her human affection for them will be reserved. Unlike other royal houses, she does not regard them as relatives.’

Timeline of the legal battle between Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his wife Princess Haya bint Al Hussain 

The High Court in London has published rulings relating to the legal battle between Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his former wife Princess Haya bint Al Hussain of Jordan.

Here is a timeline of events in the case.

July 15, 1949 – Sheikh Mohammed is born in Dubai.

May 3, 1974 – Princess Haya born in Amman, Jordan.

August 15, 1981 – Princess Shamsa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is born to Sheikh Mohammed, who has several wives.

December 5, 1985 – Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is born.

Summer 2000 – During a visit to England, Shamsa runs away from her family and seeks immigration advice to try and stay in the UK.

August 2000 – Shamsa is taken from the streets of Cambridge by men working for her father. 

She is taken to her father’s home in Newmarket, before being taken by helicopter to France and then to Dubai. She has not been seen in public since.

March 2001 – A woman claiming to be Shamsa contacts Cambridgeshire Police, saying she has been taken from England to Dubai.

December 2001 – The Guardian publishes an article suggesting Shamsa has been abducted from the UK.

April 2004 – Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya are married.

December 2, 2007 – Al Jalila born.

January 7, 2012 – Zayed born.

February/March 2018 – A video of Latifa is uploaded to the internet, in which she gives a detailed account of important events in her life. She also describes what she knows about her sister Shamsa’s time in England and her subsequent abduction.

December 6, 2018 – The BBC broadcasts a documentary called Escape From Dubai: The Mystery Of The Missing Princess.

February 7, 2019 – Sheikh Mohammed divorces Princess Haya under sharia law without her knowledge. She says this date, which coincides with the 20th anniversary of her father’s death, is deliberately chosen to ‘maximise insult and upset to her’.

April 15 – Princess Haya travels to the UK with Jalila and Zayed.

May 14 – Sheikh Mohammed issues proceedings at the High Court in London seeking the summary return of his two children with Princess Haya to Dubai.

May 22 – First High Court hearing before Mr Justice Moor – the media, who are unaware of the hearing or even the proceedings, do not attend.

July 16 – On the eve of a ‘scoping hearing’ to consider media issues before Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, Princess Haya issues applications to make the children wards of court, for a forced marriage protection order and for a non-molestation order.

July 17 – Three journalists attend and lawyers for Sheikh Mohammed apply for them to be excluded. Sir Andrew says the hearing is relatively short while those in court ‘simply scope out what lies before us’ and to consider what information, if any, should be given to the media. The judge adds that the parties will issue a short statement explaining the nature of the proceedings.

July 18 – With the permission of the court, the parties release the following statement: ‘The parties to these proceedings are HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein. These proceedings are concerned with the welfare of the two children of their marriage and do not concern divorce or finances.’

July 30 – At a hearing to work out issues, including the question of media reporting and to how to proceed to a final hearing to determine the welfare issues, Sir Andrew allows the media to report that Sheikh Mohammed has applied for the summary return of the children to Dubai, and that Princess Haya has applied for the children to be made wards of court, for a non-molestation order and a forced marriage protection order.

November 12-13 – Sir Andrew conducts a hearing to make findings of fact in relation to Princess Haya’s allegations against Sheikh Mohammed.

December 11 – The judge delivers his ruling on the fact-finding hearing. Strict reporting restrictions preventing its publication remain in force.

January 17, 2020 – The judge delivers a ruling on a series of ‘assurances and waivers’ given by Sheikh Mohammed to Princess Haya. He also conducts a hearing to determine whether his earlier rulings should be made public.

January 27 – Sir Andrew concludes that his earlier rulings should be published, but the publication is postponed pending a Court of Appeal challenge by Sheikh Mohammed to this decision.

February 26 – The Court of Appeal hears Sheikh Mohammed’s challenge.

February 28 – Three leading judges dismiss his appeal and refuse to grant him permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. The stay on publication remains in force to give the father chance to make a challenge to the Supreme Court.

March 5 – The Supreme Court announces that it has refused permission to appeal and all previous rulings are made public. 

The judge’s conclusions are that Princess Haya was subjected to a sustained campaign of fear and intimidation by her former husband. He also finds that Shamsa and Latifa were abducted on their father’s orders.

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