Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum ordered the hacking of phones belonging to his estranged wife, using the controversial Pegasus spyware, a London court ruled.
The surveillance of Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein using the NSO Group Ltd. technology, took place with the “express or implied authority” of Sheikh Mohammed, Judge Andrew McFarlane said in a ruling made public Wednesday. The couple have been fighting over the welfare of their children after the princess flew to the U.K. with them in 2019.
Sheikh Mohammed is “prepared to use the arm of the State to achieve what he regards as right,” McFarlane wrote in his Wednesday ruling. “He has harassed and intimidated the mother both before her departure to England and since,” said the judge, and “is prepared to countenance those acting on his behalf doing so unlawfully in the U.K.”
Sheikh Mohammed denied the allegations in a statement to Bloomberg. The case concerns “supposed operations of state security” and “it was not appropriate for me” to provide evidence on such sensitive matters, he said.
“The findings are therefore inevitably based on an incomplete picture” and are also based on evidence “not provided to me or my minders,” said the sheikh. “I therefore maintain that they were made in a manner which was unfair.”
Lawyers for Princess Haya declined to comment.
The rulings by one of Britain’s most senior judges add to the embarrassment facing the Dubai royal family. McFarlane ruled early last year that Sheikh Mohammed conducted a campaign aimed at “intimidating and frightening” his estranged wife.
NSO’s software has been found on phones belonging to journalists and activists with human rights groups accusing the Israeli firm of using the technology to eavesdrop on conversations and track messages. The firm says its product is sold to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments only.
An NSO document previously published by security researchers describes Pegasus as a tool that can “remotely and covertly extract valuable intelligence from virtually any mobile device.”
It can be installed on a phone by tricking a targeted person into clicking a link, according to the document, or by forcing a phone to download the spy tool without any user interaction, usually by exploiting security vulnerabilities on the device.
Sheikh Mohammed had stated that it was hard to see how the hacking allegations made a “substantial difference” to the issue of his contact with his children, according to McFarlane.
The judge said in Wednesday’s ruling that he considered the matter to be of the “utmost seriousness,” saying it may have a profound impact on his ability to trust the sheikh with anything but the “most minimal and secure arrangements” for contact with his children.
In a separate judgment, the judge also said that agents acting for the sheikh had tried to buy a 30 million-pound ($40.7 million) estate next to the princess’s own property west of London. The judge said the princess rightly feared that the sheikh could use the estate in an attempt to abduct the children by offering a transport hub for a helicopter.
The police, he said, have been given copies of the court orders preventing abduction.