When the ultra-wealthy ruler of the Middle Eastern emirate of Dubai found himself embroiled in a British court case with the Jordanian princess, who was once his wife, he did more than just hire top-shelf lawyers.
He also deployed high-tech software purchased from an Israeli company to hack the cellphones of his ex-wife, two of his lawyers and three other associates, according to court documents made public on Wednesday.
One of the lawyers, Baroness Fiona Shackleton, is a current member of the House of Lords – potentially adding friction to the close ties between the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, which includes Dubai.
This appears to be the first confirmed case of software, known as Pegasus and according to Bill Markzak, a researcher in the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munch School of Global Affairs, sold by the Israel-based NSO Group, which is being used successfully to hack the phone of a British official who investigated the phone. Of. case and determined that they had been hacked.
The NSO group has come under intense scrutiny in recent months following reports that various governments have used its software to target adversaries.
The hacking, which came to light in a civil trial in a London court, marked a new addition to an already complicated mess of Arab royal family conflicts, diplomacy and a world of highly secretive companies selling expensive hacking techniques to governments around the world. Wrinkle added. , who can use them as they see fit.
NSO Group says it sells its products to governments for use in law enforcement and counter-terrorism. Technology researchers have found that such technologies are being used by repressive governments to track down criminals, not political dissidents, human rights activists and journalists.
In an emailed statement, NSO Group said: “Whenever suspicion of abuse arises, NSO investigates, NSO alerts, NSO terminates.”
The company said it is committed to human rights and cooperates with the court, even though it did not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.
An email from the Dubai Media Office seeking comment did not elicit a response.
The legal battle, which continues, pits Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum against his ex-wife, Princess Haya of Jordan, over the custody of their two children after fleeing London with her in 2019.
Sheikh Mohammed has also been accused of possessing two daughters from another marriage – Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum and Sheikha Shamsa Al Maktoum – in Dubai after they tried to escape.
Sheikh Mohammed’s representatives have denied that women are being kept against their will.
In a ruling in the British Civil Court case, which was handed down in May but made public on Wednesday, a judge ruled that surveillance was conducted by agents of Sheikh Mohammed using software licensed to the Emirate of Dubai or the United Arab Emirates. Was. The court said Princess Haya’s personal assistant and two of her security personnel were also under “unlawful surveillance”.
In statements to the court, Sheikh Mohammed denied knowing about or being authorized to hack the phone and alleged that the court did not have jurisdiction to rule on the actions of a sovereign state. The court disagreed.
The same court had previously ruled that Sheikh Mohammed had imprisoned his daughters with Princess Haya and threatened their other wives, although he is unlikely to face legal consequences.
Before fleeing to London, Princess Haya, the daughter of the previous King Hussein of Jordan, was a well-known figure in British high society. She was educated in British private schools, represented Jordan at the 2000 Olympics as a show jumper and was reported to be friendly with Queen Elizabeth II.
Nicolas Manners, another lawyer for Princess Haya, was targeted for hacking. The verdict said Princess Haya’s phone was hacked several times last year with “express or implied authority” of Sheikh Mohammed.
The court said Shackleton was informed of the hacking by Cheri Blair, the wife of former prime minister Tony Blair, who serves as NSO’s business and human rights adviser.
The court said a senior NSO manager had called Cheri Blair to explain that the company was concerned that its software had been “abused” to monitor Shackleton and Princess Haya’s phones. The company told him it had made sure the software could no longer be used on their phone and asked Cherie Blair to contact the Baroness.
Sheikha Mohamed’s two daughters, Sheikha Latifa and Sheikha Shamsa, attempted to escape from their father’s custody after Princess Haya’s flight to London in 2019. Eventually both were caught.
shekha latifa was seized by armed commandos by a ferry in the Indian Ocean; Shekha Shamsa was kidnapped from the road in Cambridge, England, and flew back to Dubai. Women’s advocates say they are still being held against their will, claiming it has tarnished the reputation of their powerful father.
Sheikha Latifa’s whereabouts and circumstances are unclear. Although she appeared in a video earlier this year saying she was being held captive by her father, later photos appeared on social media showing her in Iceland, at Madrid airport and a shopping mall in Dubai. Shown at the mall. A cousin told the Free Latifah Campaign, a group that had worked to publicize her case, that he had met her in Iceland.
Yet the princess herself has not spoken publicly, raising doubts about whether she is acting of her own free will.