Runaway princess' capture sparks tales of global intrigue

Sheikha Latifa says in a YouTube video she was fleeing from mistreatment by her family.
Sheikha Latifa says in a YouTube video she was fleeing from mistreatment by her family.

She is said to have been detained at sea by Indian navy and returned to family in Dubai

PARIS • A detained Emirate princess, a yacht seized by Indian soldiers in international waters, a Frenchman being held in Luxembourg - accounts from key players in the attempted escape by a daughter of the ruler of Dubai have all the hallmarks of a geopolitical thriller.

Rights activists are increasingly worried about the fate of 32-year-old Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who has not been seen publicly since being captured at sea in March while trying to flee the United Arab Emirates.

Human Rights Watch last Saturday urged the Dubai authorities to reveal the whereabouts of the princess, saying her case could constitute "enforced disappearance".

A source close to the Dubai government has said only that the princess was indeed brought back to Dubai and was "with her family" and "doing excellent".

But accounts by people involved in the escape who spoke with the Agence France-Presse suggest an aggressive campaign to recapture the princess after she slipped over the border into Oman in February, and punish those who helped her.

Her case has since been taken up by the UK-based advocacy group Detained in Dubai, which has alerted the United Nations' human rights commission.

In what appears to be a self-made video uploaded to YouTube in March, which brought her into the public spotlight, Sheikha Latifa says she was fleeing mistreatment and restrictions imposed by the family of her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed Al-Maktoum.

"I'm making this video because it could be the last video I make," she says, adding that she is "99 per cent positive" her escape would succeed. "If it doesn't, then this video can help me because all my father cares about is his reputation."

Her video was published once it became clear that her attempt to get away, which began on Feb 24, had failed.

She had enlisted the help of Ms Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish woman who had been her teacher of the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira; Mr Christian Elombo, a Frenchman who taught sports in Oman; and Mr Herve Jaubert, a Franco-American businessman who claims to be a former French secret service agent.

After making it to Oman, Ms Jauhiainen said she and Sheikha Latifa boarded a yacht owned and piloted by Mr Jaubert with the goal of reaching India, from where the princess would fly to the United States.

But on the night of March 4-5, their vessel was surrounded by the Indian navy and detained by soldiers, who then towed the yacht back to the UAE.

Mr Jaubert and Ms Jauhiainen said they were held until March 20 and 22, when they were expelled from the country.

In a video released later, Mr Jaubert, 62, claimed they were surrounded by "five warships, two planes and a helicopter" and were "beaten severely" by soldiers who boarded the yacht and robbed them, even as Sheikha Latifa screamed that she was seeking asylum.

He said he was blindfolded and held in solitary confinement while being questioned, before being made to sign a forced confession and released. "They wanted us to admit that it was a kidnapping because according to their Islamic definition, a woman, even adult, cannot give her consent because she remains the responsibility of her father," said Mr Jaubert.

He said Sheikha Latifa had contacted him because of his 2009 book Escape From Dubai, in which he recounts fleeing by dinghy to avoid fraud claims after a business deal soured.

The Indian government has refused to comment.

The Dubai government source denounced last month that a "private matter" had become a "soap opera", while accusing its Gulf rival Qatar of being behind the campaign.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2018, with the headline 'Runaway princess' capture sparks tales of global intrigue'. Print Edition | Subscribe