New Delhi: In a ruling about the future arrangements of the Dubai ruler’s two youngest children, a UK family court judgment has ruled that the account of the abduction of another daughter of his, Sheikha Latifa by Indian special forces commandos, is accurate and not contradicted by the father.
In April 2019, Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, the UAE prime minister’s second official wife, fled to London with her 12-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son. A month later, the Emir of Dubai began legal action in the UK seeking the return of the children to Dubai.
During these legal proceedings, one of the allegations made by Princess Haya was that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum had masterminded the abduction of two of his eldest daughters from another marriage, Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa.
While Shamsa had been allegedly abducted from the UK in August 2000, the Emir had apparently orchestrated the forcible return of Latifa twice – once in 2002 from Oman and then from near the coast of India in 2018.
The family judge gave a fact-finding judgment which went into the issues that were brought by Princess Haya as being relevant to the determination of the final arrangement for the two children. The fact-finding judgment was handed over on December 11, 2019, but was made public only on Thursday.
“The allegations that the father ordered and orchestrated the kidnap and rendition to Dubai of his daughters Shamsa and Latifa are of a very high order of seriousness. They may well involve findings, albeit on the civil standard, of behaviour which is contrary to the criminal law of England and Wales, international law, international maritime law, and internationally accepted human rights norms,” said the fact-finding ruling by Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the high court in England and Wales.
Crucial evidence provided by Finnish fitness instructor
The judge observed while assessing the evidence relating to Latifa, “I regard the evidence of Tiina Jauhiainen as being of singular importance”.
Jauhiainen, a Finnish fitness instructor, started to give lessons to Latifa in the martial arts form of capoeira in 2010 and become a close confidant.
According to her testimony, Latifa made contact with Herve Jaubert, a Frenchman who had written a book, Escape from Dubai in mid-2017. The Finnish friend then started to meet with Jaubert in various destinations abroad to make plans for an escape.
A week before Latifa left, she filmed a long video that explained her plan and why she was trying to leave.
The two women left at Dubai at 7 am on February 24, 2018, drove to the Oman border and then took a dinghy ride. As the weather was not good, Jauhiainen said they were met by Jaubert and a crew member on two jet skis to transport them to the awaiting yacht, Nostromo. The entire journey took 12 hours.
They sailed for eight days in Nostromo in international waters, during which period Latifa and Jaubert communicated with various individuals. The judge speculated that it “may well be that that activity enabled the Dubai authorities to locate them”.
Operation by Indian special forces
They noticed another boat shadowing them on the sixth day and also noticed that an Indian coast guard spotter plane made regular flights over the boat.
Referring to Jauhiainen’s account, Judge McFarlane said that when the boat was 30 miles off Goa in international waters on March 4, it was boarded “by a substantial number of Indian special forces”.
“Smoke grenades or gas, together with gunshots soon led to the crew and passengers being subdued. TJ (Tinna Jauhiainen) describes being totally terrified and ‘frightened to death’. At one stage, after TJ had been dragged to the deck with her hands tied behind her back, she saw Latifa lying face down on the floor with her hands similarly bound. TJ says that the Indian servicemen kept shouting ‘who is Latifa’ over and over again. After some time an Arabic man was brought onboard who identified Latifa.”
During this time, Latifa was shouting that she was seeking asylum and that the operation by Indian forces was in violation of international law.
“Latifa’s last words that I heard as she was dragged away kicking and screaming were words to the effect that ‘You can’t get me back alive. Don’t take me back. Shoot me here don’t take me back’ in English,” Jauhiainen was quoted in the fact-finding judgment.
Since then, Jauhiainen has not heard from or seen Latifa.
The Finnish citizen claims that every crew member, including Jaubert and herself, were “badly treated by the Indian forces”. Eventually, the Indian commandos were replaced by members of the UAE army.
In her recorded testimony to the court, Jauhiainen said that she later learnt that “UAE soldiers had been flown to Mumbai from the UAE, picked up by Indian coastguard helicopter and then taken in Indian coastguard boats for transit to the Nostromo”.
The court noted that Jauhianen recalls two large helicopters that were supported by two large Indian coastguard boats. “Indeed, her statement records subsequently seeing pictures of the types of coastguard ships and she identifies the probable class of vessel that had been deployed,” the judge states.
Nostromo was escorted all the way to Dubai by the Indian coast guard, the judgment observes.
The video which had been uploaded to a cloud storage account before Latifa and Jauhianen was released on YouTube on March 11.
Jauhiainen was taken to a high security establishment, interrogated exhaustively and then forced to sign a piece of paper before she was allowed to leave UAE.
Accepting her testimony, the UK judge describes the Finnish fitness instructor as a “wholly impressive individual”. “I regard TJ as a wholly impressive individual. There is no indication that her motives throughout the period of years that she describes have been anything other than that of a loyal employee of Sheikha Latifa and, latterly, a close friend, supporter and confidante. Any suggestion that TJ was cynically involved in the escape from Dubai as part of a pre-planned kidnap plot is untenable.”
Under the influence of Jaubert, claims the Emir
In his written statement, the UAE prime minister and UAE responded to Latifa’s 2018 Indian abduction. He claimed that that UK court is “in a position to investigate the security and intelligence issues that arose”. Jaubert was accused of having manipulated Latifa “over a long period of time” with the aim to extort money.
“Certainly a financial demand was made to us. We feared that our daughter was in the hands of a criminal who might hold her to ransom and harm her. To this day I consider that Latifa’s return to Dubai was a rescue mission.”
The judge observes that the account of the departure from Dubai, sailing on high seas and then the “seaborne assault by Indian military forces” was “not challenged”.
“Indeed, the father’s short account would seem to confirm that he authorised action to be taken, on his terms, to ‘rescue’ Latifa,” said the UK family court judge.
In his judgment, judge McFarlane further said that the “description of the way in which Latifa was treated by the Indian security services and also, once the Arabic man had identified her, does not give any indication that this was a ‘rescue’ rather than a ‘capture’”.
“The final words that TJ heard Latifa shouting say a great deal. She was pleading for the soldiers to kill her rather than face the prospect of going back to her family in Dubai,” he averred
The judgment concludes 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”.
An example of the Dubai PM’s diplomatic sway
Princess Haya “made it plain” through the legal proceeding that the fate of the two sisters played a big role in the “extreme concern that she has for the future well being of her children”.
In other parts of the judgment, the UK family court said that there was no proof of Princess Haya’s allegation that the Dubai ruler had used his influence to remove her diplomatic immunity.
But, it said that the operation by the Indian special forces was certainly an example of his diplomatic sway. “I am however fully satisfied that the father, the State of Dubai and the UAE are afforded significant international respect and have, accordingly, great influence. The cooperation of the Indian military in the operation to capture Latifa is one demonstration of this power.”
In May 2018, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance (WGEID) wrote to India to respond to allegations that the Indian government was involved in the Latifa’s disappearance and detention.
There has been since speculation in Indian media that UAE’s deportation of Christian Michel, an alleged middleman in the Agusta Westland helicopter case, was quid pro quo for the Indian military operation to return the Dubai princess.