Sheikh Mohammed "gave his express or implied authority" to have phones of Princess Haya and five of her associates hacked using Pegasus spyware, UK High Court says.

Princess Haya bint Al Hussein and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum (C), walk to parade ring on Ladies Day, third day of horse racing at Royal Ascot in England on June 17, 2010. [File]
Princess Haya bint Al Hussein and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum (C), walk to parade ring on Ladies Day, third day of horse racing at Royal Ascot in England on June 17, 2010. [File] (Reuters)

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum ordered the phones of his ex-wife and five of her associates to be hacked using Israeli security firm NSO Group's Pegasus spyware during a bitter custody battle, the Guardian has reported, citing a British High Court order. 

Sheikh Mohammed is also the United Arab Emirates' prime minister. His ex-wife, Princess Haya bint Hussein, is the daughter of King Hussein of Jordan and the half-sister of Jordan's current king, Abdullah II.

Judge Andrew McFarlane ruled that Sheikh Mohammed "gave his express or implied authority" to hack the phones during the former couple's legal battle in London over their two children.

Princess Haya fled to London in April 2019 with their children, leading to a still-ongoing legal battle over custody, access to the children and financial support.

READ MORE: Modi accused of ‘treason’ as Pegasus spyware row rocks India

Princess Haya's phone hacked 11 times

Of Princess Haya’s five associates who were hacked, two were her lawyers, and one of the lawyers, Fiona Shackleton, sits in the House of Lords, Britain's upper chamber of parliament.

The Guardian reported that Shackleton was told about the hacking by Cherie Blair, who works with NSO Group.

Judge McFarlane said that unlawful surveillance had been carried out. The judgement was made on May 5 but has only now been published.

McFarlane noted in his judgement that Princess Haya's phone was hacked 11 times last year in July and August.

The judgement said that on one of the occasions that Haya’s phone was hacked, 265 megabytes of data was uploaded. 

This particular hack took place, according to McFarlane, at a "particularly busy and financially interesting time in these proceedings, with the build-up to key hearings relating to the mother’s long-term financial claims for herself and the children."

The Met, London’s police force, carried out "significant inquiries" last year into allegations of hacking, but the force added that after five months it closed the investigation in February due to “no further investigative opportunities."

A Met spokesman was quoted by the Guardian on Wednesday as saying: "We will of course review any new information or evidence which comes to light in connection with these allegations."

READ MORE: The role of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the Pegasus spyware saga

Abuse of power

In his judgement against Sheikh Mohammed, McFarlane said: "The findings represent a total abuse of trust, and indeed an abuse of power, to a significant extent."

"I wish to make it plain that I regard the findings that I have now made to be of the utmost seriousness in the context of the children’s welfare. They may well have a profound impact upon the ability of the mother and of the court to trust him with any but the most minimal and secure arrangements for contact with his children in the future," he added.

Sheikh Mohammed's legal team had tried to argue that the court had no jurisdiction to judge a foreign act of state, which in this case would be the alleged use of spyware by the UAE, and as such prevent McFarlane's ruling.

This argument was rejected, however, by the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.

Following the publication of the findings, Sheikh Mohammed released a statement saying: "These matters concern supposed operations of state security. As a head of government involved in private family proceedings, it was not appropriate for me to provide evidence on such sensitive matters."

"Neither the Emirate of Dubai nor the UAE are parties to these proceedings and they did not participate in the hearing. The findings are therefore inevitably based on an incomplete picture."

READ MORE: Tech giants join legal battle against Israeli hacking firm NSO

Source: AA