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Dubai ruler ordered abduction of daughters: UK judge

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London (AFP)

Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum ordered the abduction of two of his daughters and subjected his former wife to a "campaign of fear and intimidation", forcing her to flee to London with their two children, according to a British court ruling made public on Thursday.

Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, 45, fled the United Arab Emirates last April having become "terrified" of her husband, who is also the vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.

Soon afterwards, the 70-year-old sheikh applied for their two children -- a son aged eight and a 12-year-old daughter -- to be returned to the Gulf kingdom.

But Princess Haya, a half-sister of Jordan's King Abdullah II, applied for the children to be made wards of court and filed a non-molestation order for herself.

She asked during a London hearing for a judge to make findings of fact about the kidnapping and forced detention of two of the sheikh's adult daughters from a previous marriage.

She also alleged she had faced a "campaign of fear and intimidation" since she left last year.

- Seized and detained -

Sheikh Mohammed, who owns the Godolphin horse racing stable, tried to prevent two of the court rulings being made public.

But the Supreme Court rejected his application on Thursday morning, allowing them to be published.

Judge Andrew McFarlane, who heads the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales, found Sheikh Mohammed "ordered and orchestrated" the abduction of Sheikha Shamsa from the UK city of Cambridge when she was 19 in August 2000.

She was forcibly returned to Dubai and "has been deprived of her liberty for much, if not all, of the past two decades", he said.

He also found Shamsa's sister, Latifa, 35, was seized and returned to Dubai twice, in 2002 and again in 2018.

She was held "on the instructions of her father" for more than three years after the first attempted escape. Her second made global headlines in March 2018.

Claims by a friend of Latifa who helped her escape that Indian special forces boarded a boat off the Indian coast on March 4, 2018 before she was returned to Dubai were also found to be proven.

"She was pleading for the soldiers to kill her rather than face the prospect of going back to her family in Dubai," McFarlane said.

"Drawing these matters together I conclude, on the balance of probability, that Latifa's account of her motives for wishing to leave Dubai represents the truth.

"She was plainly desperate to extricate herself from her family and prepared to undertake a dangerous mission in order to do so."

- Secret divorce -

Lawyer Charles Geekie, representing Princess Haya, said at a hearing last November that his client had been left anonymous notes threatening the lives of her son and daughter.

She also told the court of "deliberate threats" and even of a helicopter landing outside her house when the pilot told her he had come to take a passenger to a desert prison.

The court was also told the sheikh divorced Princess Haya without her knowledge on February 7, 2019 -- the 20th anniversary of the death of her father king Hussein of Jordan.

Judge McFarlane said it was "clear the date will have been chosen... to maximise insult and upset to her".

He agreed with Geekie that events since 2000 showed "a number of common themes, at the core of which is the use of the state and its apparatus to threaten, intimidate, mistreat and oppress with a total disregard for the rule of law".

"I also accept Mr Geekie's submission that these findings, taken together, demonstrate a consistent course of conduct over two decades where, if he deems it necessary to do so, the father will use the very substantial powers at his disposal to achieve his particular aims."

- One-sided -

In a statement after the publication of the rulings, Sheikh Mohammed strongly denied the claims and said the case involved "highly personal and private matters relating to our children".

He said he appealed to the Supreme Court "to protect the best interests and welfare of the children".

"The outcome does not protect my children from media attention in the way that other children in family proceedings in the UK are protected," he said, calling the process one-sided.

"As a head of government, I was not able to participate in the court's fact-finding process."

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