By Michael Holden and Andrew MacAskill
LONDON (Reuters) – Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, has been ordered by the High Court in London to provide a British record of more than 554 million pounds ($733 million) to settle a custody battle with his ex-wife over their two children.
The bulk of the massive award to Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah, and the couple’s two children, is to ensure their lifetime security, not least to address the “grave risk” posed to them by the sheikh himself, said the judge, Philip Moor.
The judge said: “She is not asking for an award for herself other than for security” and to compensate her for the possessions she lost as a result of the marital breakdown.
He directed Mohammed to make a one-off payment of 251.5 million pounds within three months to Haya for the upkeep of her British mansions, to cover the money she said she was owed for jewellery and racehorses, and for her future security costs.
The sheikh, who is vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, was also told to provide 3 million pounds towards the education of Jalila, 14, and Zayed, 9, and 9.6 million pounds in arrears. He was also asked to pay 11.2 million pounds a year for the children’s maintenance, and for their security when they become adults.
These payments will be guaranteed via a 290 million pound security held by HSBC bank. The final sum, despite being believed by some London lawyers to be the largest public award ever ordered by an English family court, is less than half of the 1.4 billion pounds that Haya had originally sought.
During almost seven hours of testimony, Haya, 47, said a large one-off payment would allow for a clean break and remove the sheikh’s hold over her and their children.
“I really want to be free and I want them to be free,” she told the court.
Following the ruling, a spokesperson for the sheikh said he “has always ensured that his children are provided for” and asked for the media to respect their privacy. A lawyer for Haya did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The settlement is the latest development in a legal saga that began when the princess fled to Britain in April 2019, fearing for her safety after she began an affair with one of her bodyguards, and a month after she had asked the sheikh for a divorce.
Later that year, the London court ruled Mohammed had carried out a campaign of threats and intimidation that made her fear for her life, and that he had also previously abducted and mistreated two of his daughters by another marriage.
Earlier this year, the President of the Family Division in England and Wales, a senior judge, also determined that Mohammed had ordered the phones of Haya and her lawyers, one of whom is a parliamentary lawmaker, to be hacked using the sophisticated “Pegasus” state security software.
Haya had not asked for any divorce settlement. She did not offer an explanation, but her lawyers said she would have been entitled to seek billions as the ex-wife of one of the world’s richest men.
“The mother’s financial claims, and the size of the relief that’s being sought, are quite unprecedented,” the sheikh’s lawyer, Nigel Dyer, told the court during hearings which could not be reported until Tuesday.
He said her demands were excessive and she was really claiming for herself under the guise of her children. He also accused the princess of misusing the children’s funds, saying that she had paid out 6.7 million pounds to blackmailers, who were part of her security team, to keep an affair quiet.
The court did not hear from the alleged blackmailers. Haya said she used money from the children’s accounts because she was frightened.
THE 70 MILLION POUND COURT FIGHT
Haya’s lawyer, Nicholas Cusworth, said legal fees over two and a half years had reached more than 70 million pounds, adding “the true extent of the colossal sums spent by (Mohammed) will never be known”.
The bulk of Haya’s financial award will go on security, according to the details of the settlement. This was to keep the children safe from being abducted by their own father, the ruling said, including cash for a fleet of armoured cars which would be replaced every few years.
Moor said Haya and her children needed the extensive provision to protect them from the sheikh, as well as because of their royal status.
“Absolutely uniquely, the main threat they face is from (the sheikh) himself not from outside sources,” Moor said.
“There will remain a clear and ever present risk to (Haya) for the remainder of her life, whether it be from (Mohammed) or just from the normal terrorist,” he said, referring to security threats faced by someone in Haya’s position.
Such were the concerns that Haya’s head of security – known only as ‘Director 1’ – had to be brought into the courtroom to give evidence about her security needs with the windows blacked out, shielded with a curtain from all except Moor and two lawyers, and his name handed to the judge on a piece of paper.
Haya’s lawyers told the judge the money available to the princess and the children in Dubai had been “limitless”, with access to more than a dozen luxurious homes, a 400 million pound yacht and a fleet of private planes.
She had an annual budget of more than 83 million pounds for her household in Dubai with another 9 million pounds spending money, the ruling said. Mohammed’s lawyer acknowledged to the court he could raise 1.25 billion pounds in cash within three months.
“I remind myself that money was no object during the marriage,” Moor said in approving Haya’s claim for 1.9 million pounds to be spent on a kitchen extension, pizza oven and kitchen curtains at her London home.
Moor said he would not give “carte blanche” to Haya’s financial claims, but would consider her demands “with a very clear eye to the exceptional circumstances of this case, such as the truly opulent and unprecedented standard of living enjoyed by these parties in Dubai”.
Haya told the court it was not excessive for her to ask for millions to pay for five housekeepers, clothing, upkeep of her two mansions, one estimated to be worth about 100 million pounds, and regular holidays.
Her jewellery, in total valued at some 20 million pounds, would fill the courtroom if spread out, she said.
Moor ordered Mohammed to pay her 1 million pounds for missing haute couture garments which she said had disappeared and 5 million to cover nine weeks of vacations for her and family members every year.
“She is not, in the context of this case, wealthy,” her lawyer, Cusworth, said. The ruling said she had been forced to sell 15.6 million pounds of assets – including horses worth 10 million and 2.1 million pounds worth of jewellery – to make ends meet while she waited for the final settlement.
He said her demands should be seen in the context that Mohammed had a 2 million pound bill for buying strawberries one summer for his country estate, northeast of London.
However, the sheikh’s lawyer, Dyer, described many of Haya’s claims as “absurd” or “ridiculous”, and said they were totally at odds with her stated desire for her children to lead a normal life.
He said the judge’s ruling was likely to be “the largest financial remedy award certainly ever ordered and I imagine ever made by a family court”.
The previous largest sum ever thought to have been ordered by a British court was the 453.6 million pounds that Russian billionaire Farkad Akhmedov was instructed to pay for his 2016 divorce settlement.
Mohammed, 72, had offered to pay regular maintenance sums of 10 million pounds a year, and provide a 500 million pound guarantee which Dyer said would “hang like a sword of Damocles” over his head and that of his family.
In his conclusion, Moor said he found Haya’s evidence to be “palpably honest”.
To Mohammed, the princess’s lawyer Cusworth said, “the actual value of money is very different to any normal mortal involved in this case or any litigant who normally comes before this court”.
(Reporting by Michael Holden and Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Giles Elgood)