Wednesday, 27 Oct 2021

Queen under pressure to ditch friendship with Dubai ruler after hacking scandal

The Queen is under pressure to ditch her friendship with Dubai’s ruler after he was found responsible for illegal UK phone hacking.

Sheikh Mohammed, a close ally of Britain and the horse race-loving friend of the Royal Family, used controversial spyware to snoop on his ex-wife and her lawyers during a custody battle.

England’s high court ruled that Mohammed used the sophisticated ‘Pegasus’ software, developed for states to counter terrorism, to hack the phones of Princess Haya bint al-Hussein and some of those closely connected to her.

It allowed agents to listen in on her phone calls, read her messages and emails, use the camera and microphone, and steal passwords and photos.

Princess Haya, who fled to the UK in 2019 in fear of her life, said the discovery had made her feel ‘hunted and haunted’.

Labour MP Chris Bryant said the extraordinary revelations should prove a ‘wake-up call’.

He said: ‘The Foreign Office needs to do a proper inquiry into our relationship with Dubai and I would have thought the Foreign Secretary will be summoning in the ambassador for a “meeting without coffee”.’

It’s not just the government coming under pressure to axe ties with the sheikh.

The Queen is a longstanding friend of the billionaire racehorse owner and even accepted horses from him after he was accused in 2019 of kidnapping his daughter Princess Latifa.

The sheikh has been photographed in the Royal Box at Ascot and shared a carriage drive with the Queen down the famous course. The monarch also met with the ruler on a state visit to Abu Dhabi in 2010.

But Her Majesty is also said to be fond of Haya, the half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who she has known since she was a child.

Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine, said: ‘Despite the Queen’s well-established equestrian links with the sheikh, in light of these findings it seems likely that she will distance herself from him, at least in public. The Queen has known Princess Haya since she was a child and is fond of her.’

However, a royal source said that what the Queen does next may depend on the actions of politicians.

They told Mail Online: ‘I suspect the Queen’s reaction will be determined by how the Government decides to handle this. It’s a tricky one, as the UAE are a key ally of the UK.’

Royal Commentator Richard Kay said Her Majesty may find herself in a difficult position next year, when the Queen’s love of racing is expected to be at the centre of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations. 

The two monarchs have the third and fourth favourites for next summer’s Epsom derby. But the winner’s enclosure ‘may be `a no-go zone’ if the sheikh is there.

Mr Kay said the Queen wants to keep a distance from the sheikh and avoid being photographed with him.

He wrote: ‘The historic ties of friendship between the House of Windsor and Sheikh Mohammed, who once cultivated an image as a progressive Arab leader, underpinned Britain’s relations with the UAE. They now threaten to undermine them.’

In a ruling that was made public yesterday, a senior judge concluded that the sheikh committed a ‘total abuse of trust and indeed an abuse of power’.

The court heard that those working for him also tried to buy a mansion next door to Haya’s estate near London, making her feel unsafe and like she ‘cannot breathe anymore’.

A senior judge said Haya is ‘fully’ justified in fearing her children will be snatched from their English country home by their sheikh father’s henchmen in a helicopter.

Haya’s high-profile solicitor Baroness Shackleton, a Tory peer who acted for Prince Charles and Sir Paul McCartney in their divorces, was among those targeted in the cyber hacking mission. 

She reported to Black Rod, the monarch’s representative in the House of Lords, that her ‘parliamentary email, my own email, my WhatsApp messages, my pictures and my texts are all visible to somebody else’.

In a surprising twist, she only became aware of the hacking after an urgent phone call made by Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mrs Blair acts as an adviser to the NSO group who makes the Pegasus software.

A senior member of NSO’s management team called Mrs Blair from Israel on 5 August 2020 to inform her that ‘it had come to their attention that their software may have been misused to monitor the mobile phones of Baroness Shackleton and HRH Princess Haya’.

NSO told the court it could not disclose who its customers were, but confirmed that an unnamed customer’s contract had been terminated within weeks of the discovery.

Sheikh Mohammed denied any knowledge of the hacking.

He said the court’s findings were based on evidence that was not disclosed to him, and that they were ‘made in a manner which was unfair’.

But the judgements come as a blow to the sheikh and a further revelation as to his treatment of female members of his family.

He previously orchestrated the armed kidnap of his runaway daughter Princess Shamsa from Cambridge in 2000, the High Court heard. He also allegedly abducted her sister Princess Latifa when she too tried to flee Dubai.

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