The estranged wife of Dubai’s billionaire ruler has filed for custody of their children after fleeing to the UK seeking protection — and by all accounts, the circumstances which led her there are steeped in mystery and intrigue.
Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein (45), is one of Sheikh bin Rashid al-Maktoum’s (70) six wives and mother to two of his children. She was seen Tuesday morning arriving at London’s High Court, where she also applied for a ‘forced marriage protection order’ relating to one of her two children, reports said.
The Sheikh, who is also vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is believed to have a fortune of around £4.5 billion and the legal battles set to ensue could potentially become one of the most high-value divorces cases ever witnessed in Britain.
However, the couple previously said the current legal proceeding only concerned the “welfare of the two children” and not divorce or money. The Sheikh is also believed to have applied for the return of the children, seven-year-old son Zayad and 11-year-old daughter al-Jalila, to Dubai.
Wealth and privilege
Haya, daughter of former King Hussein of Jordan, spent the “formative years” of her life in Ireland, where she trained with a top show-jumper, before becoming an Olympic equestrian in 2000 and serving on the International Olympic Committee.
With her royal connections, Oxford education and high profile, Princess Haya put a more progressive face on the UAE — but it seems even with all her wealth and privilege, she was not immune from antiquated traditions which would keep her hostage had she not managed to escape.
The princess with friends in high places fled Dubai earlier this year, first heading to Germany, fearing that she might not be protected by UK authorities. She later arrived in Britain, however, and is believed to be living in an £85 million mansion near Kensington Palace.
It is believed that Princess Haya fled after discovering that her husband had mistreated one of his other daughters, 33-year-old Princess Latifa, who tried but failed to extricate herself from her father’s grip last year in a daring sea-escape off the coast of Goa, India. In a video posted before her attempted escape, Latifa claimed she had been abused and imprisoned by her family.
Latifa’s family insists she is “safe” and claims she was the victim of an extortion plot. They released a video of her with former Irish President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson last year. Robinson said she was a“troubled young woman” who was in “the loving care of her family.”
Yet, campaigners say the meeting with Robinson was “staged” with Haya’s support to counteract negative publicity and that Latifa is being held against her will. They are now pleading with Haya to use her “newfound freedom” and “global power and influence” to help free her. Indeed, Princess Haya’s recent desertion to Britain appears to indicate that she too now believes that Latifa was abused and has acted to protect her own children.
Princess Haya “began asking questions about Latifa; eventually learning enough to conclude that the young woman had indeed been tortured since childhood, imprisoned, and drugged by her father,”the Detained in Dubai group said in a statement.
Latifa’s case echoes that of another of the Sheikh’s daughters, Princess Shamsa al-Maktoum, who has not been seen since she attempted to escape from their Surrey home in 2000, aged 19. Le Monde reported the teen had been “caught up on a Cambridge street by her father’s employees” and was “forcibly taken back to Dubai, where she has been leading a life of near-seclusion.”
Other theories about Haya’s decision have been floated in British media — in particular a claim that the Emirati princess actually fled after her husband grew worried about her relationship with her British bodyguard, not over concern for Latifa.
Speculation mounted that Haya may be in danger and left after an official Emirati Instagram account claiming to be the Sheikh (and followed by one of his sons) posted a poem about betrayal in June.
“You betrayed the most precious trust, and your game has been revealed,” it read. “Your time of lying is over and it doesn’t matter what we were nor what you are.”
The poem instructs Haya to “go back” to the person who has kept her “occupied” and ominously ends with the line: “I do not care whether you live or die.”
Princess Haya is being represented by divorce lawyer Fiona Shackleton, who is known for negotiating Prince Charles’ split with the late Princess Diana. Sheikh Mohammed will be represented by Helen Ward of the Stewarts law firm, which represented Guy Ritchie when he divorced from Madonna.
It is likely that to make her own case, Haya will testify to “all she knows” regarding her husband’s treatment of Latifa, Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, told Euronews.
The couple is being allowed to have their case heard in the UK despite not having citizenship because these are not criminal proceedings. Their extensive British connections and the Sheikh’s impressive property portfolio have enabled them to take their case to London’s High Court, reports said.