Even as Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman faces increasing heat for his alleged involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of United Arab Emirates (UAE) Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is under global scrutiny for alleged forceful confinement, kidnapping and perhaps even murder of his daughter Latifa Maktoum.
Reports said the princess was captured in a highly secretive operation last March, 50 km away from the coast of Goa from a US flag carrier and forcibly taken back to the UAE. She was said to be running away from oppressive confinement with her friend, an alleged French-born US spy. Since then, there has been no news of the princess, and many fear that she may have been murdered.
Her law and international crisis manager, David Haigh, told Wion that he had got the details of Latifa’s travails from the royal family’s British PA, Collete. “A mutual friend contacted her over phone, and I contacted her on WhatsApp,” says Haigh, “She was meant to call me back or have Latifa’s brother contact me, but they did not. It felt like she had gone to her bosses, maybe the ruler.”
The UAE government’s stand is that Herve Jaubert, the US spy, had conspired against the royal family using the Princess as leverage. Haigh said a similar rumour had been floated about him, accusing him of being a Qatari spy. He fears this episode will end up like the Khashoggi tragedy.
In March, Latifa announced in a video that she was fleeing the Emirates due to restrictions imposed by her family. The video was later released on social media after she was intercepted and taken back to Dubai. Finnish national Tiina Jauhiainen was on the boat with Latifa and helped her escape. Jaujiainen, British lawyers and Haigh spoke exclusively to WION about the princess’s daring escape from a gilded cage and subsequent capture.
Jauhiainen, who had befriended the princess in 2010 while teaching her capoeira, says Latifa had confided her in 2017 about an affair and sought her help to escape from Dubai. “We had lost a close friend in a skydiving accident,” says Jauhianinen, “and also her sister Shamsa’s situation had gotten worse after she was caught trying to escape palace life. Latifa thought life is too short to wait for things to improve, and she didn’t want to end up like Shamsa. In fact, she wanted to leave to be able to help her find freedom too. Another reason for leaving was simply to be able to have freedom of choice and movement — a basic human right.”
Latifa had dashed to freedom in 2002, but was caught. Jauhiainen and Jaubert helped Latifa plot her escape for over seven years. She was to drive from Dubai to Muscat, and then board a dinghy to international waters followed and set sail for the US flag carrier yacht anchored 30 miles off the coast of Oman. “The plan was to sail to India and fly from there to USA, where she was planning to claim political asylum,” Jauhiainen said.
However, she was intercepted by the Indian coast guard and Jauhiainen has not heard from her since March 4. The UN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other groups have been demanding information from the UAE about her whereabouts for over nine months. Two UN bodies have even written to India about the secret operation conducted in international waters.