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Peer’s phone hacked by Sheikh

Sheikh Mohammed hacked Tory peer’s mobile phone, rules judge

Queen’s racing friend targeted ex-wife’s lawyer in bitter divorce battle.

The ruler of one of the UK’s closest Middle East allies faces a police investigation after a judge has concluded he ordered the hacking of a Tory peer’s mobile phone using surveillance software.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai, a key member of the Queen’s racing circle, is implicated in the use of the Pegasus spyware programme as part of a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife, a senior judge has ruled.

The Pegasus spyware can be used to hack mobile phones and can record calls, copy messages and photographs and secretly film users. It can also access address books, call records, calendars, emails and internet browsing histories.

Victims include the sheikh’s former wife, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, 47, the half-sister of the King Abdullah II of Jordan, and her lawyer, the Conservative peer Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia.

Scotland Yard, the National Crime Agency and Black Rod, who oversees administration of the House of Lords, have been informed of the hacking.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, concluded in judgments made public today that on balance of probability Mohammed was responsible for the hacking.

Mohammed, 72, has also been found to have attempted to buy a stately home in Surrey to intimidate his former wife, who lived with their two young children in a neighbouring mansion.

The ruling comes ten months after the same judge found that he ordered the abduction of two of his daughters. Princess Latifa, 35, was seized from a yacht in the Indian Ocean in 2018 and her sister Princess Shamsa, then 19, disappeared in Cambridge in 2000.

The damning ruling by McFarlane found there had been hacking of the telephones of Haya, Shackleton and fellow divorce lawyer Nicholas Manners and attempts to hack the princess’s personal assistant and two of her security staff.

Shackleton, 65, is one of Britain’s highest profile divorce lawyers, with clients including Prince Charles and Prince Andrew.

She had referred obliquely to the hacking in a speech to the House of Lords last year saying: “I am, as I have advised Black Rod, a victim of being hacked through my telephone. My parliamentary email, my own email, my WhatsApp messages, my pictures and my texts are all visible to somebody else.”

McFarlane found: “It is more probable than not that the surveillance of the six phones that I have found was undertaken by Pegasus software was carried out by servants or agents of the father, the Emirate of Dubai or the UAE and that the surveillance occurred with the express or implied authority of the father [Mohammed].”

Although Dubai could not be a Pegasus customer, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where Mohammed is prime minister, could have used the system, he added.

McFarlane concluded: “The court is entitled to assume that the father [Mohammed] and those acting for him must have the ability to instruct those in the security services of the UAE to take action on his behalf.

“The findings of fact previously made with respect to Princess Latifa establish that the father is prepared and able to use the government security services for his own family needs, and that this has occurred in the recent past.

“When one adds the father’s natural and proven interest in these proceedings . . . the prospect that it is the father comes yet more clearly into focus.”

The sheikh had asked the Supreme Court to block the investigation into the allegations of hacking which was part of the costliest child custody battle in British legal history. A case at the Court of Appeal — one of numerous court hearings — cost £2.5 million in legal fees.

He claimed the issue was a “foreign act of state” for which the courts did not have jurisdiction. Mohammed also suggested the hacking could have been carried out by other countries including Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Haya said in a statement to the court: “Since July 2020, the pressures on me have dramatically increased. I have felt my health and my strength deteriorate slowly and progressively under the strain of the harassment of me, both through the litigation and otherwise.”

The princess fled to London with her two children in 2019 after her husband became concerned about her close relationship with her British bodyguard.

Mohammed said in a statement after the judgments were made public: “I have always denied the allegations made against me and I continue to do so.

“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 either personally or via my advisers in a foreign court.

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

“In addition, the findings were based on evidence that was not disclosed to me or my advisers. I therefore maintain that they were made in a manner which was unfair.”

Sheikh tried to buy mansion next to ex-wife’s home
Today’s court ruling also finds that Mohammed attempted to buy Parkwood, a stately home in Surrey next to his former wife’s estate, Castlewood House, to intimidate her and their two children.

Parkwood has a 77-acre estate, which was valued at £30million, and Castlewood House was previously owned by her father, the late King Hussein, and had been lent to the Duke and Duchess of York following their marriage.

Haya was assured by the sheikh’s lawyers, Harbottle & Lewis, that her former husband was not seeking to buy any property in the area but months later discovered he was in the process of buying Parkwood.

Mohammed, who is a key financial backer of British racing through his Godolphin stables, objected to a wide exclusion zone his former wife was seeking around Castlewood.

He said it would make it difficult to visit Windsor Castle and Royal Ascot, where he is regularly seen with the Queen.

His lawyers complained it would also be a breach of the sheikh’s freedom if he could not visit the Guards Polo Club where the Queen is patron or the Royal Chapel of All Saints at Windsor Castle which is used for royal weddings, including that of Princess Beatrice in July last year.

Haya said she had been warned by her stepmother, Queen Noor, in February last year that Mohammed was attempting to buy property near her.

The sheikh finally admitted a trust which was buying properties for use by members of the ruling family and their staff was due to exchange contracts on Parkwood within weeks. Haya complained she felt she was being “stalked” and “there is literally nowhere for me to go to be safe from [Mohammed], or those acting in his interests”.

McFarlane found: “[The sheikh] is an individual of immense wealth, political power and international influence,” and said the abduction of his daughters “demonstrate his ability to act and to do so irrespective of domestic criminal law”.

He ordered a 100m “no-entry zone” around the mother’s Surrey mansion, a 1,000ft no-fly zone to prevent the use of aircraft or drones and banned the sheikh from buying property in the surrounding area.

Cherie Blair warned lawyer of hacking
The telephone hacking had been exposed with the help of Cherie Blair QC, the wife of former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, who is an adviser to the Israeli intelligence company behind Pegasus. She had alerted Shackleton in August last year.

Hours earlier Shackleton’s law firm, Payne Hicks Beach, had received a warning from the human rights lawyer Martyn Day. He said that a Canadian computer expert assisting a UAE activist who had been the victim of Pegasus had found evidence that Shackleton’s law firm had also been targeted.

Blair told the High Court that a senior manager at the company behind Pegasus had informed her the software might have been “misused to monitor the mobile telephones” of Haya and Shackleton. The barrister said she was not told who was responsible for the hacking but stated: “It had always been my assumption that ‘the country’ (or the government agency/security agency within this country) was Dubai.”

World leaders allegedly spied on by Pegasus
Pegasus can infect billions of phones running either iOS or Android operating systems. Apple last month released a security update for iPhones to counter its hacking abilities.

The spyware was created by NSO Group Technologies which is reported to have been founded by former members of Unit 8200, specialists in the Israeli Intelligence Corps responsible for collecting signals intelligence and code-breaking.

President Macron of France is among 14 serving or former national leaders to have allegedly been spied on by the software. Others include President Ramaphosa of South Africa and Imran Khan, the Pakistani prime minister, according to research by Amnesty International.

Clients of NSO are reported to have identified 50,000 mobile telephone users since 2016, according to Amnesty.

NSO insists it provides the spyware to governments and their intelligence services only for use in tackling serious crime and terrorism. The company claims Amnesty’s technical report on the widespread use of Pegasus is a “compilation of speculative and baseless assumptions”.

The London law firm Bindmans is investigating alleged misuse of Pegasus by foreign governments to target Baroness Uddin, Madawi al-Rasheed, a professor at the London School of Economics, and Raghad Altikriti, president of the Muslim Association of Britain.

David Haigh, a human rights lawyer, became the first publicly confirmed British victim of Pegasus in August. Haigh represented Latifa after she was seized by Indian commandos and Dubai military from a yacht.

NSO’s lawyers, Schillings, initially had told Shackleton’s law firm that Blair was not privy to the identity of any of the company’s clients.

The company said in a later statement to the High Court that on August 4 last year it received information “that raised the possibility that Baroness Shackleton’s mobile phone, that of another unnamed member of her firm and that of her client may have been compromised”.

NSO said the hacking appeared to end on September 15 and following the investigation the contract with the unidentified customer was terminated.

Friendship with the Queen
The ruling will be greeted with dismay within Buckingham Palace. For years the Queen has been a friend of Mohammed, united by their love of racing. He has ridden with the Queen in her carriage at Royal Ascot and been a regular in the Royal Enclosure. As the owner of the massive Godolphin horseracing operation, he has for years made gifts of thoroughbreds to the Queen.

After last year’s judgment that Mohammed had organised the abductions of two of his daughters it became clear that the relationship between Dubai’s billionaire ruler and the Queen could not continue on the same level as it had before.

The Queen was keen to avoid being dragged into the dispute between the sheikh and Haya, and The Times revealed that she would make sure that she would not be in a situation where she was likely to be photographed with him or the princess.

However, the Queen continued to accept gifts of racehorses from the sheikh even after Haya had fled to London in fear of her life.