Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum ordered the phones of his ex-wife and her lawyers to be hacked as part of a “sustained campaign of intimidation and threat” during the custody battle over their children, England’s High Court has ruled.
Mohammed used the sophisticated “Pegasus” software, developed by Israeli firm NSO for states to counter national security risks, to hack the phones of Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah, and some of those closely connected to her, according to the rulings.
Those working for him also tried to buy a mansion next door to Haya’s estate near the British capital, intimidatory action the court ruled that left her feeling hunted, unsafe and feeling like she “cannot breathe anymore.”
The latest rulings come 19 months after the court concluded that Mohammed had abducted two of his daughters, mistreated them and held them against their will.
Mohammed, 72, and Haya, 47, have been involved in a long, bitter and expensive custody battle since she fled to Britain with their two children, Jalila, 13, and Zayed, 9.
Reporting restrictions on the findings of judge Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division in England and Wales, were lifted on Wednesday (October 6) after a year of hearings.
The legal costs of the case have run into millions of pounds, with the case involving some of Britain’s most prominent lawyers.
The costs of one appeal alone was cited by the court as costing 2.5 million pounds.
Among those targeted by the hacking was Haya’s lawyer Fiona Shackleton, a member of Britain’s House of Lords who represented British heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles in his divorce from his late first wife Princess Diana.
The activity came to light in August last year after Shackleton was urgently tipped off by Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, that she and Haya had been hacked, the court was told.
Blair is also a prominent lawyer who worked as an external adviser for NSO.
The sheikh, who is vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, initially sought to have the children brought back to Dubai, but has since suffered repeated defeats in the English courts.
In a judgment released on Wednesday, McFarlane ruled that the children should live with their mother.
The sheikh had denied the allegations of hacking and his lawyers had argued other countries in the Middle East could have been to blame.
(Production: Aiden Nulty)