A missing Dubai princess says she is a “hostage” in secret videos released to Sky News.
For three years, the world has heard nothing from Princess Latifa, a daughter of one of the world’s richest men, Dubai’s billionaire ruler Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.
She attempted to escape her family in March 2018, by trying to sail across the Indian Ocean – but was brought back to Dubai in what the royal family say was a rescue mission.
Friends of the princess managed to smuggle a phone to her, and Sky News was able to pass questions to her in the spring and summer of 2019.
In the videos, she tells her story in her own words for the first time, including a claim that she was sedated during her forcible return: “This guy came with a small pouch, like a camouflage pouch, and he took out a needle and he injected me in my arm.”
Sky News can reveal Princess Latifa says:
• She was beaten, drugged and imprisoned in a jail
• She has been locked away in a royal villa and placed under armed guard and bars on the windows
• She is a hostage, wants her passport and to be free to leave the UAE
What is the sheikh’s side of the story?
The sheikh says Latifa was tricked into escaping by criminals who wanted money and that returning her to Dubai was a rescue mission.
He says the princess is safe and well, and that they want to maintain her privacy.
Latifa’s father, who is also the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, is a powerful and influential man, with horse-racing and property assets in the UK. The sheikh is regularly seen alongside heads of state, including the Queen.
However, he has also been the subject of allegations that have come from a number of members of his family. Two ex-wives claim he abused them. As have Latifa and one of her sisters.
The sheikh denies all this.
Latifa: In her own words
The princess has not been seen or heard from since she attempted to flee Dubai in 2018 – other than a handful of official photographs in December that same year.
But now, Sky News can share Latifa’s side of this astonishing story.
She says: “So I am in a villa. I am a hostage. This villa has been converted into a jail. All the windows are barred shut, I can’t open any window.
“There are five policemen outside and two policewomen inside the house and I can’t even go outside to get any fresh air.”
She continues: “I am doing this video from a bathroom because it is the only room with a door that I can lock.
“The door to my room, I put, because I can’t lock the door to my room, there is no key, I put a bottle and some boxes underneath so if somebody opens the handle it will make a loud sound and it will be like an alarm so I stop talking. So yeah, this is my situation now.”
Sky News sent questions to Sheikha Latifa in the spring and summer of 2019. We had agreed to publish the videos with the now 35-year-old princess’s permission, but in the summer of 2020, contact was lost.
Her current whereabouts is unknown.
What happened on the boat?
The decision to publish now comes as some of the videos are passed to the UN, who are investigating Sheikha Latifa’s fate.
Princess Latifa’s 2018 escape came to an abrupt end when armed Indian commandos boarded the yacht she was sailing on off the coast of Goa.
In her video messages, Latifa describes clinging on to the side of the vessel, before being dragged off on to a smaller boat and then moved to a helicopter.
“I was fighting as hard as I could. I was wearing flip flops and my flip flops came off so I was barefoot. I didn’t have any weapons. I was tied. I was up against a lot of people with weapons. It wasn’t easy,” she says.
Once on the smaller boat she describes how she was physically restrained and drugged: “The one who was sitting on my stomach, he grabs my chest and he says to me: ‘shut up, shut up’ so I got really, really angry and I was hitting him with my hands and screaming at him to get off me and I was so so angry and I just kept fighting with him really hard.
“Nobody cared, but eventually because I was really, really, really struggling a lot the other Emerati guy told him get off her and he sat on me and he helped the other guy tie up my legs but I was fighting. This guy came with a small pouch, like a camouflage pouch and he took out a needle and he injected me in my arm.”
Back in Dubai
Ultimately, she was moved on to a helicopter and brought back to Dubai.
She says: “So when I woke up, the private jet had already landed in Dubai and one of the policewomen, she was like, I woke up and she was braiding my hair while I was asleep. And I noticed that my hands were like really bruised and swollen, especially my left hand, because the zip ties were still on me and I was still on the stretcher, still tied to the stretcher.”
She says she was questioned, and taken to a cell in Al Alwir jail on the outskirts of Dubai before she was moved to the guarded villa.
“So the cell was in Section 13 in Al Awir jail and outside it said 291 and I was there from my kidnap day until May 27 2018. So approximately three months I was in our al Awir jail cell,” she says, adding: “For quite some time I was sleep deprived, I wasn’t really sleeping properly, I would sometimes pass out from exhaustion.
“It wasn’t a good situation. The bathroom had no door. I think it was just another way to humiliate you, you know.”
Her friends did not hear from Latifa after the escape, until around a year later a message reached Tiina Jauhiainen, who had been on board with the princess.
“When I got the first message from Latifa I couldn’t believe it was happening. I was so emotional. I couldn’t sleep for a couple of nights because there was a timeframe where I wasn’t sure what was going on, if this message passed to me by this person was happening a long time ago.
“I was having a hard time contacting her but finally weeks later, when I first heard Latifa’s voice I burst into tears, it was one of the most emotional moments I’ve had ever had and I can recall up to today. It was very, very special.”
Why release these now?
Sky News had agreed to run these videos when Latifa herself wanted them to be made public, but she has been uncontactable for nine months.
Her video messages have now been passed – by her friends – to the United Nations, which is why we have made the decision to air them.
Another friend of Latifa, human rights campaigner David Haigh, who has previously been charged and detained in the UAE over fraud allegations, hopes the videos will encourage the UN and others to act.
He told Sky News: “We want politicians and former politicians and world leaders and celebrities and so-called influencers, the people that go to Dubai and the UAE and promote that country, to wake up and see what the reality is.
“This is a country that is literally I mean people will be on those beaches in Dubai a few hundred metres away from where Latifa is essentially in solitary confinement, a hostage.”
What happened to Latifa was examined during a High Court battle between the sheikh and his now former wife, Princess Haya bint al Hussein.
In findings made public in March 2020, Sir Andrew McFarlane, presiding over the case, accepted that the sheikh had been responsible for the kidnapping and detention of Latifa.
The senior British judge also accepted the princess’s account that she had been drugged, beaten and detained following a previous escape in 2002.
Eyewitness testimony from Princess Haya was also accepted. She told the court she visited Latifa in December 2018 and found she “was held against her will. She was locked in a house, guarded from the outside and from the inside”.
The sheikh rejected the judgement, accusing it of being biased.
In a statement released at the time, he said: “As a Head of Government, I was not able to participate in the Court’s fact-finding process, this has resulted in the release of a ‘fast-finding’ judgment which inevitably tells only one side of the story.”
Representatives of the sheikh did not respond to requests for comment.