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.
heikh 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 with her, according to the rulings.
Those working for him also tried to buy a mansion next door to Princess Haya’s estate near London – intimidatory action, the court ruled, that left her feeling hunted, unsafe and like she “cannot breathe any more”.
The latest rulings come 19 months after the court concluded that Sheikh Mohammed had abducted two of his daughters, mistreated them and held them against their will.
“The findings represent a total abuse of trust and, indeed, an abuse of power to a significant extent,” Judge Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division of the High Court in England and Wales, said in his ruling.
The sheikh had denied the allegations of hacking and his lawyers had argued other countries in the Middle East could have been to blame.
“The father has no knowledge of any such activity taking place,” David Pannick, his lawyer, told the court.
“He has not authorised it or instructed, encouraged or in any way suggested any other person should use NSO or any software in this way.”
Sheikh Mohammed (72) and Princess Haya (47) have been involved in a bitter and expensive custody battle since she fled to Britain with their two children, Jalila (13) and Zayed (9).
She said she feared for her safety amid suspicions she had had an affair with one of her British bodyguards.
Among those targeted by the hacking was Princess Haya’s lawyer, Fiona Shackleton, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, who represented Prince Charles in his divorce from Princess Diana.
The activity came to light in August last year after Ms Shackleton was urgently tipped off by Cherie Blair, the wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair, that she and Princess Haya had been hacked, the court was told.
Ms Blair is also a prominent lawyer, and worked as an external adviser for NSO.
At the same time, a cyber expert from the University of Toronto’s internet watchdog Citizen Lab also alerted Princess Haya’s lawyers after tracking the hacking, the court heard.
Once it was uncovered, NSO cancelled its contract with the UAE, Princess Haya’s lawyers said.
The Israeli firm said it could not immediately comment on the case, but said it took action if it received evidence of misuse of Pegasus.
Reporting restrictions on Judge McFarlane’s findings after a year of hearings were lifted yesterday.
“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,” the British-educated princess said in one witness statement.
It is not the first time the UAE’s cyber activities have come under scrutiny.
Last month, three former US intelligence operatives, who worked as UAE cyber spies, admitted violating US hacking laws to spy on human rights activists, journalists and rival governments.