Dubai’s billionaire ruler targeted ex-wife with NSO’s Pegasus spyware

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the billionaire ruler of Dubai, focused the cellphone of his estranged spouse Princess Haya with a military-grade adware instrument throughout a London court docket battle over their two youngsters, a Excessive Court docket decide has discovered.

Sheikh Mohammed permitted his “servants or brokers” to make use of an Israeli manufactured and commercially offered covert surveillance weapon referred to as Pegasus to focus on the telephones of Princess Haya and her divorce lawyer Baroness Fiona Shackleton, in accordance with a Excessive Court docket ruling.

Pegasus adware, the military-grade software program licensed by the Israeli firm NSO Group, is barely presupposed to be deployed by sovereign states to forestall terrorism and critical crime, in accordance with the corporate, and is offered solely with approval of the Israeli authorities. It’s licensed to the United Arab Emirates.

However rights teams resembling Amnesty Worldwide and the Citizen Lab have traced the adware to the smartphones of dozens of journalists, politicians and human rights activists internationally.

The Excessive Court docket ruling that the adware was misused to listen in on Princess Haya throughout a court docket case in regards to the welfare of their two youngsters is extremely embarrassing for Sheikh Mohammed, the vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. The case continues to be ongoing and has been largely ignored by UAE media.

Over the previous quarter of a century Sheikh Mohammed has overseen the event of Dubai into the area’s dominant commerce, finance and tourism hub. His Godolphin secure is a dominant drive in horseracing and Sheikh Mohammed has been a daily fixture alongside Queen Elizabeth within the royal field at Ascot, one in all Britain’s most prestigious sporting occasions.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the Excessive Court docket’s household division, concluded in a fact-finding ruling, which may now be reported for the primary time, that “it’s extra possible than not” that the cellphone hacking “was carried out by servants or brokers of the daddy, the Emirate of Dubai or the UAE and that the surveillance occurred with the specific or implied authority of the daddy”. 

Sheikh Mohammed “is the possible originator of the hacking” and he’s “ready to make use of the arm of the State to attain what he regards as proper”, the decide concluded, including that the royal had “harassed and intimidated” Princess Haya, who’s a half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah, even after she fled to England along with her two youngsters in 2019.

Queen Elizabeth presents Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum with a trophy as the winning owner of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Ascot in June 2019
Queen Elizabeth presents Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum with a trophy because the successful proprietor of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Ascot in June 2019 © John Sibley Motion Photographs by way of Reuters

The Excessive Court docket famous that Sheikh Mohammed filed no proof in response to the allegations and he didn’t affirm nor deny that the UAE has or had any contract with NSO for the Pegasus system. His authorized staff additionally selected to “float varied strategies” together with that different states resembling Jordan have been accountable for the hacking, in accordance with the ruling. The case has been heard in non-public however numerous judgments have now been made public.

McFarlane famous in his ruling that Shackleton, Haya’s divorce solicitor, was first tipped off in regards to the cellphone hacking on August 5 2020 by two separate attorneys — one in all whom was Cherie Blair QC, a barrister and the spouse of former prime minister Tony Blair.

Blair, who advises NSO on human rights points, had alerted Shackleton, beforehand divorce lawyer for Prince Charles and Paul McCartney, in regards to the cellphone hacking after receiving a name from a senior NSO supervisor.

Blair, who gave a witness assertion to the fact-finding listening to, testified that NSO was “very involved” and “it had come to the eye of NSO that their software program could have been misused” to watch the cell phones of Shackleton and Haya, in accordance with the ruling.

Blair was by no means informed in regards to the identification of the NSO buyer suspected of finishing up surveillance however testified: “I recall asking whether or not their shopper was the ‘huge state’ or the ‘little state’. The NSO senior supervisor clarified that it was the ‘little state’, which I took to be the state of Dubai,” in accordance with the judgment.

The emirate of Dubai is one in all seven members of the United Arab Emirates, the capital of which is oil-rich Abu Dhabi. Dubai retains vital autonomy throughout the federation, together with its personal safety service.

In a December 2020 letter to the court docket, the NSO stated it couldn’t disclose its purchasers however its investigation into the cellphone hacking advisable that “the contract with the client must be terminated”, in accordance with the ruling.

In his fact-finding judgment, McFarlane concluded there had been hacking or tried infiltration by Pegasus of six telephones and within the case of Princess Haya’s cellphone “a really substantial quantity of knowledge” had been “covertly extracted”.

Pegasus is designed to reflect a cellphone’s contents surreptitiously, thus defeating the encryption of apps resembling WhatsApp or Sign, and might activate cameras and microphones to document conversations and observe the placement of the system.

A earlier Excessive Court docket ruling in 2020 discovered that Sheikh Mohammed “ordered and orchestrated” the kidnapping of two of his daughters: Sheikha Shamsa from the UK in 2000 and Sheikha Latifa who tried to flee Dubai by yacht two years in the past, however was returned to the UAE after the boat was boarded by Indian commandos.

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