The ruler of Dubai has approved the hacking of his ex-wife’s and her lawyers’ phones with multi-million dollar spyware during a lawsuit over their two children, the High Court has ruled.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, 72, gave his “express or implied power of attorney” for the phone of his sixth wife, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, 47, to be infiltrated with Pegasus spyware during the ongoing legal process, the court ruled.
The Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who had previously carried out a “fear and intimidation campaign” against Princess Haya, also approved Pegasus’ use against Princess Haya’s lawyers, her personal assistants and two members of her security team were found .
The use of Pegasus, which is manufactured by the NSO Group and sold only to nation-states, came to light in August 2020 when Cherie Blair told Princess Haya’s attorney, Baroness Shackleton, that she may have been hacked, the court heard.
Ms. Blair, the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and then NSO advisor, contacted the Conservative colleague who had previously represented the Prince of Wales and Sir Paul McCartney after she was told that the software might have been “misused”.
NSO informed the court that it could not disclose who its customers were, but confirmed that the contract of an unnamed customer had been terminated within weeks of the discovery.
On Wednesday the High Court published a series of judgments in the current case between Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya, half-sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan, over their two children, Al Jalila, 13, and Zayed, 9.
Last year, Sir Andrew McFarlane – the senior family judge in England and Wales – found that Sheikh Mohammed “ordered and orchestrated” the kidnapping and forced return of two of his adult daughters to Dubai: Sheikha Shamsa, 40, in August 2000 and she Sister Sheikha Latifa, 35, in 2002 and again in 2018.
In recent judgments, the High Court has made further findings of fact against Sheikh Mohammed, including that the multi-million dollar spyware Pegasus was used with “express or implied authority” on his estranged wife’s phone.
Sir Andrew ruled that it was more likely that the at least attempted surveillance of six phones was “carried out by servants or agents of the father, the emirate of Dubai, or the United Arab Emirates and that the surveillance was carried out with the express or implied authority of” the father “.
He concluded: “The father who is Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates is ready to use the arm of the state to achieve what he thinks is right.
“He harassed and intimidated the mother both before she left for England and since then. He stands ready to assist those who are illegally acting on his behalf in the UK. “
Sir Andrew added in a separate judgment that the Sheikh’s trial was “characterized by high-level coercive behavior”.
However, Sir Andrew did not determine that the July or August 2020 hacking was related to what was happening at the time in the ongoing legal battle over the two children.
The High Court heard that once on the phone, Pegasus can track a person’s location, read texts and emails, listen to phone calls, record live activities, access apps and photos, and operate the camera and microphone.
According to expert evidence, the spyware can infiltrate a device if a phone user clicks on a fraudulent link or even without any action on the part of the phone owner.
The court also heard that “even with the most sophisticated and professional anti-virus scanning mechanisms” is unlikely to detect that a phone is infected with the spyware.
Sir Andrew proved that Princess Haya’s phone had extracted at least a “very substantial” 265 megabytes of data, equivalent to about 24 hours of voice recording or 500 photos, but it was not known what data had been extracted.
At an October 2020 hearing, Princess Haya’s attorney Charles Geekie QC told the court, “It had a very, very big impact on her … she understands and believes that there were hackers who both hunted and followed her feels.”
The factual findings, which Sheikh Mohammed vehemently denies, have been met after weighing the probabilities of the standard of evidence under civil law.
While denying any knowledge of the hacking and failing to provide evidence to the court, Sheikh Mohammed’s lawyers argued that Princess Haya had failed to prove her case and that he could not confirm or deny whether the UAE had a contract with the NSO Group.
They also suggested that another country could be responsible, with the billionaire ruler’s attorney arguing that Jordan may have carried out the hacking attack to embarrass Sheikh Mohammed.
Sir Andrew declined this proposal, however, describing the hacker’s findings as “a total abuse of confidence and indeed a substantial abuse of power”.
“The father has never shown concern about the mother looking after her children as her phones have been hacked and her security infiltrated,” he added.
Princess Haya originally fled to England with her two children from the United Arab Emirates in early 2019, claiming she was “afraid” of her husband.
She moved to bring the children to justice, as well as an order to protect Jalila from forced marriage and an order to refrain from harassment for her own protection.
In judgments published last year, Sir Andrew stated that Sheikha Shamsa, then 19, was abducted from the streets of Cambridge in August 2000 and “has been deprived of her freedom for many, if not all, of the past two decades”.
He also ruled that Sheikh Mohammed kidnapped Sheikha Latifa and forced her to return to Dubai twice, once in 2002 and again in 2018.
Latifa’s second attempt to escape from the United Arab Emirates made headlines around the world after a video was released in March 2018 that she said would only be released when “I’m dead or in a very, very, very bad situation.”
After several months of planning, Latifa and his girlfriend Tiina Jauhiainen attempted to travel to international waters by boat – with the help of former French spy Herve Jaubert, who is said to have charged Latifa 350,000 euros (£ 302,800).
Sir Andrew proved Ms. Jauhiainen’s claims that Indian special forces boarded a boat in international waters off the coast of Goa on March 4, 2018, before Latifa was brought back to Dubai against her will.
In his most recent judgments, Sir Andrew said he had taken into account his previous findings.
“The factual findings previously made in relation to Princess Latifa show that the father is willing and able to use the state security services for his own family needs,” he wrote.
After the verdicts were published, Sheikh Mohammed said he continued to deny the allegations, adding, “As a head of government involved in private family proceedings, it was inappropriate for me to present evidence on such sensitive matters personally or through my advisors Court. Neither the Emirate of Dubai nor the UAE are involved in this process and did not attend the hearing. The results are therefore inevitably based on an incomplete picture. “
He added that he alleged the findings were unfair.
In August, Sheikh Mohammed appealed to the Court of Appeal against the findings of hacker attacks based on procedural errors, but his appeal was unsuccessful.
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