Sunday, December 5

Dubai Ruler Hacked Ex-Wife Using NSO Pegasus Spyware, High Court Judge Finds | Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum

The ruler of Dubai hacked the phone of his ex-wife, Princess Haya, using NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus spyware in an illegal abuse of power and trust, a high-ranking high court judge ruled.

The chairman 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 Britain in the Gulf, hacked Haya and five of his friends. associates while the couple were locked up in court proceedings in London regarding the welfare of their two children.

Those hacked included 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, an investigation by The Guardian revealed for the first time that Haya and his associates were in a data set believed to indicate persons of interest to a government client of NSO, believed to be Dubai.

Sir Andrew McFarlane’s conviction on May 5, just released now, appears to confirm that finding, which was part of the Pegasus project investigation, and goes further by saying that illegal surveillance was actually carried out.

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

Met police said they were informed of the alleged hacking last year and detectives carried out “major investigations” over the course of five months, but the investigation was closed in February because “there were no further investigation opportunities.”

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

In another McFarlane judgment, one of 11 judgments that The Guardian and other news organizations had access to on Wednesday, it was revealed that agents working on behalf of the Sheikh had attempted to buy a £ 30 million property next to the Haya’s house in Berkshire. In response, the judge created a 100-meter no-fly zone around his property and a 1,000-foot no-fly zone above it to protect it from the sheikh and his agents.

In his trial on phone hacking, McFarlane criticized Sheikh Mohammed in the strongest terms.

“The findings represent a total breach of trust and, indeed, an abuse of power, to a large extent,” he said. “I want to make it clear that I consider the conclusions I have made now to be most serious in the context of the well-being of children. They may have a profound impact on the ability of the mother and the court to entrust her with any minimum and safe arrangements for contact with her children in the future. “

On one occasion, according to the ruling, when Haya’s phone was hacked, 265 megabytes of data were uploaded, which is equivalent to about 24 hours of digital voice recording or 500 photographs. It occurred during a period described by McFarlane as “a particularly busy and financially interesting time in these proceedings, with the backlog of key hearings related to the mother’s long-term financial claims for her and the children.”

In a witness statement, the sheikh, who has not appeared in court during the entire process, unlike his ex-wife, who attended regularly, argued that “it is difficult to see how the hacking allegations make a substantial difference” in his contact with his children, but this was ruled out by McFarlane.

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

The latest rulings will heighten scrutiny over Britain’s relationship with the United Arab Emirates, following a December 2019 ruling by McFarlane that found the sheikh orchestrated the abductions of two of his other children, Princess Latifa and Princess Shamsa. , in the latter case in the streets of Cambridge. – and subjected Haya to a campaign of “intimidation”.

McFarlane took the opportunity of the phone hacking ruling to criticize the Sheikh’s claim after the December 2019 ruling in which the Dubai ruler said: “As head of government, I was unable to participate in the court’s investigation process.” McFarlane stated that this was not true, as the sheikh had presented two witness statements at that trial and had had a large legal team that he had ordered to withdraw from the courtroom rather than participate.

Sheikh Mohammed’s expensive legal team had tried to avoid McFarlane’s ruling on phone hacking by claiming that the court had no jurisdiction to try an act of foreign state, namely the alleged use of spyware by the United Arab Emirates and / or Dubai. However, in separate hearings this was rejected by the high court and the court of appeal, and the high court refused 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 supporting her request for the exclusion zone around her Castlewood House, formerly occupied by Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, Haya said: “It feels like I am being harassed, that there is literally no place i can from [her ex-husband], or those who act in their interests. It’s enormously oppressive … I feel like I can’t breathe anymore; you feel suffocated. I don’t want children to live with the kind of fear that accentuates my existence at all times. They don’t deserve this. “

On December 9 of last year, agreeing to his request, McFarlane said that in the kidnapping of his two adult daughters, the sheikh had demonstrated “his ability to act and do so independently of national criminal law”, making explicit reference to the fact that Shamsa was captured from Cambridge to Dubai by helicopter. “The mother is justified in viewing the purchase of a substantial property that immediately adjoins hers as a very significant threat to her safety, both in terms of providing an opportunity for close 24-hour surveillance and a nearby transportation hub. for a helicopter, ”said the judge.

After the findings were published, Sheikh Mohammed issued a statement in which he continued to deny the hacking-related allegations.

“These matters concern alleged State security operations. As a head of government involved in private family proceedings, it was not appropriate for him to provide evidence on such sensitive matters … Neither the Emirate of Dubai nor the United Arab Emirates are a party to these proceedings and did not participate in the hearing. Therefore, the findings are inevitably based on an incomplete picture. “

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