The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, ordered the hacking of the phones of his ex-wife and her lawyers, in a "sustained campaign of intimidation and threat," a UK High Court ruled yesterday.
The landmark ruling found that Al-Maktoum had instigated the hacking of the phones of his ex-wife Princess Haya Bint Al-Hussein and her lawyers using the Pegasus spyware developed by Israeli cybersecurity firm the NSO Group.
That spyware was made infamous in July when the University of Toronto's internet watchdog Citizen Lab exposed its client governments' misuse of the software through the hacking of around 50,000 phones and devices belonging to officials, journalists, human rights activists and political critics worldwide.
According to Reuters, the court's ruling that Prince Haya was amongst those targeted comes as a result of information provided by a cyber-expert from Citizen Lab. Haya's lawyer Fiona Shackleton was also reportedly informed of the hackings in August last year by Cherie Blair – the wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair – a prominent lawyer and an external adviser for the NSO Group.
Since Haya fled the UAE in 2019 after she discovered the Dubai ruler had divorced her, the princess and Al-Maktoum have since been embroiled in a long and bitter custody battle. That dispute in the UK's High Court gained further attention when the ruler of Dubai was reported to have abducted two of his daughters – from another marriage – and detained them against their will.
The court said that in addition to the hacking, Al-Maktoum had ordered his agents to purchase the mansion next door to Haya's estate near London, leading the princess to feel intimidated, hunted, unsafe, and as if she "cannot breathe anymore". The purchase did not go through.
In one witness statement, the princess said that "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."
Judge Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division in England and Wales, stated that the court's findings "represent a total abuse of trust, and indeed an abuse of power to a significant extent."
Sheikh Al-Maktoum rejected the court's conclusions and condemned them as apparently being based on an incomplete picture of events. In a statement, he insisted: "I have always denied the allegations made against me and I continue to do so." He added that "the findings were based on evidence that was not disclosed to me or my advisers. I therefore maintain that they were made in a manner which was unfair."