The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum, sanctioned the use of spying software to hack his former wife and lawyer’s phone during a high-profile legal battle over the custody of their children, the High Court has found.
According to the ruling yesterday, Sheikh Mohammad, 72, gave his “express or implied authority” to infiltrate sophisticated “Pegasus” (a spyware developed by Israeli firm NSO) into the phones of Princess Haya bint al-Hussein (47), half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah, as part of a “sustained campaign of intimidation and threat.”
Sheikh Mohammad is the Prime Minister of UAE and a close Middle East ally of Britain. He also authorised the use of spyware on Princess Haya’s solicitors, two members of her security team and her personal assistant, the court found.
President of the Family division in England and Wales, Judge Andrew McFarlane said in his ruling: “The findings represent a total abuse of trust, and indeed an abuse of power to a significant extent.”
The judge further stated that Sheikh Mohammad was “prepared to use the arm of the state to achieve what he regards as right.”
Although Sheikhs Mohammad’s lawyers denied any knowledge of hacking his barrister argued that Jordan may have been responsible in order to embarrass the sheikh.
However, rejecting the argument, the judge called the findings a “total abuse of trust and indeed an abuse of power to a significant extent.”
“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,” he added.
The Israeli spyware “Pegasus” is sold exclusively to nation states and not to individuals. It can track locations, read personal texts and emails, record and listen to calls.
The use of spyware came to light in 2020 when lawyer Cherie Blair, wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, tipped off Princess’ lawyers about the possible misuse of the software. Cherie Blair was an advisor of NSO at that time.
“I wish to make it plain that I regard the findings that I have now made to be of the utmost seriousness in the context of the children’s welfare. They may well have a profound impact upon the ability of the mother and of the court to trust him with any but the most minimal and secure arrangements for contact with his children in the future,” the judge said.
He also found that at least a “very substantial” 265 megabytes of data had been taken from Princess Haya’s phone – equivalent to around 24 hours of voice recordings or 500 photographs – but it was not known what data had been lifted.
Princess Haya fled to England in early 2019 with her two children, 13-year-old Jalila and 9-year-old Zayed, claiming she was “terrified” of her husband.
In one witness statement the princess said: “I do not feel that I can move freely forward as things stand now, while I am and feel hunted all the time, and I am forced to look over my shoulder at every moment of the day.”
Sheikh Mohammed has issued a statement in which he continued to deny the allegations relating to hacking of her former wife.
“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… 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.”