Dubai Executive Hacked Ex-Wife Using NSO Pegasus Spyware, High Court Judge Says | Sheikh Mohammed ben Rachid al-Maktoum

The ruler of Dubai hacked his ex-wife Princess Haya’s phone using NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus spyware as part of an illegal abuse of power and trust, a senior judge said. the High Court.

The president of the family division discovered that agents acting on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, a close ally of the Gulf of Great Britain, hacked Haya and five of his associates while the couple were locked in legal proceedings in London over the welfare of their two children.

Among those hacked were two of Haya’s lawyers, one of whom, Fiona Shackleton, sits in the House of Lords and was briefed on the hack by Cherie Blair, who works with the Israeli group NSO.

In July, a Guardian investigation first revealed that Haya and his associates were on a dataset believed to indicate people of interest to a government client of NSO, which is said to be Dubai.

Sir Andrew McFarlane’s damning judgment of May 5, which has only just been released, appears to confirm this finding – which was part of the Project Pegasus investigation – and goes further by asserting that illegal surveillance was indeed carried out.

Haya’s phone was discovered to have been hacked 11 times in July and August last year with “express or implied authority” from Sheikh Mohammed.

Met Police said they were made aware of the alleged hacking last year and that detectives conducted “significant investigations” within five months, but the investigation was closed in February due to “no further possibility. investigation “.

Although McFarlane’s findings were on the lower civil standard of proof, which requires a finding on the balance of probabilities rather than the criminal standard beyond a reasonable doubt, a Met Police spokesperson said: “We will of course consider any new information or evidence that comes to light in connection with these allegations.

In another judgment by McFarlane, one of 11 decisions the Guardian and other news outlets had access to on Wednesday, it was revealed that agents working on the Sheikh’s behalf attempted to buy an estate from 30 million pounds next to Haya’s home in Berkshire. In response, the judge created an exclusion zone 100 meters around her property and a no-fly zone 1,000 feet above to protect her from the Sheikh and his agents.

In his ruling on the phone hack, McFarlane criticized Sheikh Mohammed in the strongest terms.

“The results represent a total breach of trust, and even an abuse of power, to a large extent,” he said. “I want to make it clear that I consider the conclusions I have now made to be of the greatest gravity in the context of the well-being of children. They may well have a profound impact on the ability of the mother and the court to give her anything but the most minimal and secure arrangements for contact with her children in the future. “

On one occasion, according to the judgment, when Haya’s phone was hacked, 265 megabytes of data was downloaded, which equates to approximately 24 hours of digital voice recording data or 500 photographs. This happened during a period described by McFarlane as “a particularly busy and financially interesting time in these proceedings, with the accumulation of key hearings regarding the mother’s long-term financial claims for herself and herself. children ”.

In a witness statement, the sheikh, who did not appear in court throughout the proceedings – unlike his ex-wife who attended regularly – argued that “it is difficult to see in What the hacking allegations make a substantial difference ”in his contact with his children, but this was dismissed out of hand by McFarlane.

Princesses Shamsa (left) and Latifa. Composite: The Guardian / AP

The latest judgments will increase the scrutiny of Britain’s relations with the United Arab Emirates, following a December 2019 ruling by McFarlane that the Sheikh orchestrated the kidnappings of two of his other children, Princess Latifa and the Princess. Shamsa – in the latter case in the streets of Cambridge – and subjected Haya to a campaign of “intimidation”.

McFarlane took advantage of the phone hacking decision to criticize the Sheikh’s request after the December 2019 judgment in which the ruler of Dubai said: “As head of government, I was unable to participate in the investigative process court. McFarlane said this was false because the Sheikh submitted two witness statements to this trial and had a large legal team he asked to withdraw from the courtroom rather than participate.

Sheikh Mohammed’s expensive legal team had tried to block McFarlane from ruling on the phone hack by claiming the court lacked jurisdiction to rule on a foreign state act, namely the alleged use of spyware through the United Arab Emirates and / or Dubai. However, in separate hearings, this decision was overturned by the High Court and the Court of Appeal, with the Supreme Court refusing to allow a new appeal.

Haya fled to London in April 2019 with the couple’s two young children, sparking an ongoing legal battle over custody, access and financial support.

In a witness statement in support of her request for an exclusion zone around her Castlewood House, previously occupied by Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, Haya said: “I feel like I’m being harassed , that there is literally nowhere for me to go. under cover of [her ex-husband], or those acting in its best interests. It’s extremely oppressive… I feel like I can’t breathe anymore; one has the impression of suffocating. I don’t want children to live with the kind of fear that runs through my life all the time. They don’t deserve this. ”

On December 9 last year, granting his request, McFarlane said that during the kidnapping of his two adult daughters, the Sheikh demonstrated “his ability to act and do so independently of national criminal law”, making explicitly referring to the fact that Shamsa had been taken away. from Cambridge to Dubai by helicopter. “The mother has reason to view the purchase of a substantial estate adjacent to her own as a very significant threat to her security, both in terms of the possibility of 24-hour close surveillance and as a transportation hub to her. at hand. for a helicopter, ”the judge said.

After the publication of the findings, Sheikh Mohammed issued a statement in which he continued to deny the hacking allegations.

“These cases concern supposed state security operations. As the head of government involved in private family proceedings, it was not appropriate for me to provide evidence on such sensitive issues … Neither the Emirate of Dubai nor the United Arab Emirates are parties to these proceedings and they did not participate in the hearing. The conclusions are therefore inevitably based on an incomplete picture.

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