The ruler of Dubai ordered the phones of his ex-wife and her lawyers to be hacked during their bitter, multi-million-dollar court battle over their children, Britain’s High Court found Wednesday.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, 72, gave his “express or implied authority” to hack the phones using Pegasus spyware produced by the NSO Group of Israel, Judge Andrew McFarlane ruled.
It was part of a “sustained campaign of intimidation and threat” against his 47-year-old ex-wife, Princess Haya, during their legal battle over custody of two of their children, Jalila, 13, and Zayed, 9, the judge ruled.
“The findings represent a total abuse of trust, and indeed an abuse of power to a significant extent,” McFarlane said of the sheikh, who is also vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.
One of those targeted was the princess’ lawyer, Fiona Shackleton, a member of Britain’s House of Lords who represented heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles in his divorce from his late first wife Princess Diana.
She was tipped off in an urgent late-night call in August last year from fellow lawyer Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony, the court was told.
Blair, then an NSO adviser, warned her that the software may have been “misused.”
Once the hacking was uncovered, NSO canceled its contract with the UAE, the court was told.
Those working for the sheikh also tried to buy a London mansion next door to Haya, who is the half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah.
The intimidation left his ex-wife feeling “hunted all the time” and like she “cannot breathe anymore,” she said in one witness statement.
Al Maktoum’s lawyers chose not to offer evidence in court to counter the allegation. His lawyers argued that Princess Haya had not proved her case and that he could not confirm or deny whether the UAE had a contract with the NSO Group.
His lawyers suggested that another country — such as Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia or Jordan — may have been responsible.
“I have always denied the allegations made against me and I continue to do so,” the sheikh told Reuters in a statement Wednesday.
The pair have been involved in a long, bitter custody battle since Haya fled to Britain with their two children, later saying she feared for her safety amid suspicions that she had an affair with one of her bodyguards.
The legal costs of the case have run into millions of pounds, with one appeal alone cited by the court as costing around $3.4 million.
McFarlane again ruled Wednesday that the children should remain with their mother.
It comes 19 months after the court concluded that Al Maktoum — reported to have at least 30 children — had abducted two of his daughters, mistreated them and held them against their will.
The sheikh is also the founder of the successful Godolphin horse racing stable and once received a trophy from Queen Elizabeth II after one of his horses won a race at Royal Ascot.
There is no indication that the previous damning rulings against him caused any major damage to him personally or to the UAE, Reuters said. Last month Britain and the UAE announced a “new, ambitious Partnership for the Future” involving billions of dollars in trade and investment.
NSO said it could not immediately comment on the case. Shackleton and Blair declined to comment, Reuters said.
With Post wires