The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, used agents of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to hack into and monitor the phones of his ex-wife Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, her legal advisors, and staff, during an ongoing custody battle concerning their two children, England’s high court has ruled.
Andrew McFarlane, the UK’s most senior family court judge, said in his ruling on Wednesday that he found that through a network of servants and agents, Sheikh Mohammed had hacked the mobile phones of Princess Haya, her personal assistant, her solicitors Baroness Shackleton and Nicholas Manners, and two members of her personal security staff using “Pegasus” software licensed to Dubai and the UAE by an Israeli company.
The software used included the capacity to track the target’s locations, listen to their telephone calls, access their contacts lists, passwords, calendars, and photographs, and read messages received through apps, emails, and SMS.
McFarlane said in his ruling the “the findings represent a total abuse of trust, and indeed an abuse of power.”
“It is an abuse which has been compounded by the manner in which the father has contested these allegations and instructed his lawyers. Despite the weight of evidence, the fact of hacking was never conceded, nor was the fact that such hacking had been by Pegasus,” McFarlane said.
“At no stage has the father offered any sign of concern for the mother, who is caring for their children, on the basis that her phones have been hacked and her security infiltrated. Instead, he has marshalled a formidable forensic team to challenge the findings sought by the mother and to fight the case against her on every point,” he added.
The judgment was released Wednesday, following a year-long reporting restriction that was lifted by the Family Division of the UK High Court.
In a statement Wednesday, Sheikh Mohammed contested the judgment, saying it was 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. 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,” his statement said.
“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,” it continued.
Dubai is one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.
Because Sheikh Mohammed is the ruler of Dubai and the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, his lawyers argued that the Foreign Act of State (FAS) Doctrine – which prohibits a court from inquiring into the legality of acts made by a foreign state – undermined the UK High court’s jurisdiction in this case.
In January, McFarlane and Justice Martin Chamberlain ruled that the FAS doctrine did not prevent the court from adjudicating Princess Haya’s claims.
The findings are part of a series of ongoing hearings in London involving Princess Haya, and follow a ruling delivered in March 2020, which concluded Sheikh Mohammed had previously organized the abduction of two of his daughters and forcibly returned them to Dubai, where he held them against their will.
The Sheikh has repeatedly denied all claims raised in the ongoing case.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the capital of the UAE. It is Abu Dhabi.