The ruler of Dubai hacked the phones of his ex-wife and their lawyers, UK court said

LONDON — When the super-wealthy ruler of the Middle Eastern emirate of Dubai found himself embroiled in a British court case with the Jordanian princess, who was once his wife, he did more than employ top-shelf lawyers.

He also deployed high-tech software purchased from an Israeli company to hack the cellphones of his ex-wife, two of his lawyers and three other associates, according to court documents made public on Wednesday.

One of the lawyers, Baroness Fiona Shackleton, is a current member of the House of Lords – potentially adding friction to the close ties between the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, which includes Dubai.

According to Bill Markzak, a researcher at Citizen Lab, this appears to be the first confirmed case of software, known as Pegasus and sold by the Israel-based NSO Group, that was successfully used to hack a British officer’s phone. is being done for. The Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, which investigated the phones mentioned in the case and found that they had been hacked.

The NSO group has come under intense scrutiny in recent months following reports that various governments have used its software to target adversaries.

The hacking, which came to light in a civil trial in a London court, has opened a new wrinkle in the world’s already complicated mess of Arab royal family conflicts, diplomacy and highly secretive companies selling expensive hacking techniques to governments around the world. added. , they can and do use whatever they like.

NSO Group says it sells its products to governments for use in law enforcement and counter-terrorism. Technology researchers have come across many other cases of such techniques being used by repressive governments not to chase criminals, but to track down political dissidents, human rights activists and journalists.

In an emailed statement, NSO Group said: “Whenever suspicion of abuse arises, NSO investigates, NSO alerts, NSO terminates.”

The company said it is committed to human rights and cooperates with the court, even though it did not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.

An email from the Dubai Media Office seeking comment did not elicit any response.

The court case put Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum against his ex-wife, Princess Haya bint Al-Hussein of Jordan, in the custody of their two children after he fled London with her in 2019.

Sheikh Mohammed is also accused of having two daughters from his second marriage. Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al-Maktoum and Sheikha Shamsa Al-Maktoum – They tried to escape after being held captive in Dubai.

Sheikh Mohammed’s representatives have denied that women are being kept against their will.

In a ruling in the British Civil Court case, which was handed down in May but made public on Wednesday, a judge ruled that surveillance was conducted by agents of Sheikh Mohammed using software licensed to the Emirate of Dubai or the United Arab Emirates. Was. The court said Princess Haya’s personal assistant and two of her security personnel were also under “unlawful surveillance”.

The same court had previously ruled that Sheikh Mohammed had imprisoned his daughters with Princess Haya and threatened their other wives, although he is unlikely to face legal consequences.

Prior to her escape to London, Princess Haya, the daughter of the previous King Hussein of Jordan, was a well-known figure in British high society. She was educated in British private schools, represented Jordan at the 2000 Olympics as a show jumper and was reported to be friendly with Queen Elizabeth II.

In addition to Baroness Shackleton, one of Princess Haya’s lawyers, Nicholas Manners, was targeted by the hacking. The verdict said Princess Haya’s phone was hacked several times last year with “express or implied authority” of Sheikh Mohammed.

According to court documents, Baroness Shackleton was informed of the hacking by Cheri Blair, the wife of former prime minister Tony Blair, who serves as the NSO’s humanitarian adviser.

The court said Mrs Blair was told that the NSO was informed that her software “could be misused to monitor the mobile phones of Baroness Shackleton and her client, Her Royal Highness Princess Haya,” the court said. .

Sheikha Mohammed’s two daughters attempted to escape their father’s custody from another wife, Sheikha Latifa and Sheikha Shamsa, following Princess Haya’s flight to London in 2019. Both were eventually captured, returned home and kept there against their will, women’s advocates say, claiming they have tarnished the reputation of their powerful father.

The whereabouts and circumstances of Princess Latifah are unclear. Although she appeared in a video earlier this year saying she was being held captive by her father, later photos appeared on social media showing her in Iceland, at Madrid airport and a shopping mall in Dubai. Shown at the mall. A cousin told the Free Latifah Campaign, a group that had worked to publicize her case, that he had met her in Iceland.

Yet the princess herself has not spoken publicly, raising doubts about whether she is acting of her own free will.

Vivian Yee Contributed reporting from Cairo.

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