Princess Latifa's kidnap exposes the real dark side of influencer playground Dubai

Princess Latifa's kidnap exposes the real dark side of influencer playground Dubai

AUTHORITIES fear Dubai’s Princess Latifa is dead after a video surfaced this week of her claiming to be held hostage by her father.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described the smuggled footage of the 35-year-old as “very ­distressing” and said the world wants proof “she is alive and well”.

Princess Latifa has accused the emirate’s billionaire ruler, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, of holding her in solitary confinement since thwarting her escape bid in 2018.

In the film, she claims: “I’m a hostage, I’m not free. I am imprisoned in this jail. My life is not in my hands.”

The harrowing video, thought to have been shot one year ago, lays bare the dark side to Dubai — long been seen as a playground of the rich and famous.

More recently the glitzy United Arab Emirate has been in the headlines after reality TV stars and social media influencers flouted ­lockdown rules to sun themselves on its beaches.

While Sheikh Mohammed likes to portray himself as the enlightened ­monarch of the Arab world and a “people’s person”, his daughter has insisted it is “bulls***”.

In the video, aired on Panorama on Tuesday night, Princess Latifa said she has been kept in solitary confinement and revealed shocking details of her foiled escape from Dubai three years ago, in which she was attacked by commandos and drugged.

Sitting on the bathroom floor — the only room in the house with a lock on the door — she whispered to the ­camera: “I’m a hostage and this villa has been converted into a jail. All the windows are barred shut.

“There’s five policemen outside and two policewomen inside the house. And I can’t even go outside to get fresh air.

“I don’t know when I’ll be released and what the conditions will be like when I’m released. Every day I’m worried about my safety and my life. I don’t really know if I’m going to survive this.”

The beachfront property in a well-heeled neighbourhood is thought to be close to five-star hotels where Love Islanders including Gabby Allen, Molly-Mae Hague and Georgia Harrison partied this winter.

But Latifa’s jail could not be more ­different to the sundrenched resorts the celebs have enjoyed.

Looking pale and drawn, Latifa said: “The police threatened me that I’ll be in prison my whole life and I’ll never see the sun again. I want to be free.

“I don’t know what they’re planning to do with me . . . the situation is ­getting more desperate every day.”

Latifa is one of the Sheikh’s 30 children by six wives. The siblings grew up in the sprawling royal ­residences, £75million Surrey estate, and attended private schools in ­Lebanon.

Sheikh Mohammed has turned his kingdom into a glittering paradise, with the world’s tallest skyscraper, top restaurants and luxury hotels attracting 80million visitors a year.

But for Emirati women, strict laws make Dubai a gilded cage. As a daughter of its ruler, things were no different for Latifa.

Speaking in 2018 before she tried to flee, the princess revealed: “I’m not allowed to drive, I’m not allowed to travel or leave Dubai.

“I haven’t left the country since 2000. I’ve been asking to go travelling, to study, to do anything normal. They don’t let me. I need to leave.”

Her UK-based maternal cousin ­Marcus Essabri — formerly Fatima — claims life for the Sheikh’s children is miserable.

He said: “There was no family atmosphere, no warmth. The children were brought up by servants, and my aunt treated the staff like slaves.

“Underneath all that wealth and power, it was a very unkind place.”

In 2000, Latifa’s older sister Shamsa, then 18, escaped while the family were in Chobham, Surrey, for the horse racing season. But officials tracked her down in Cambridge two months later and “kidnapped her”.

Latifa said in 2018: “Basically she was on the streets and a bunch of guys in a car just drove up.

“They grabbed her kicking and screaming, and threw her in the car.

“She was driven to a helicopter, somehow ended up in France and from France she came to Dubai.

“She was drugged on the plane. It was a private jet so nobody was checking anything. She was drugged and brought back to Dubai.”

When the apparent abduction was investigated by British police, Dubai authorities prevented them from speaking to Shamsa. No further action was taken. In 2002, Latifa, then 16, tried to escape to Oman to get help for her imprisoned sister, but was caught at the border.

She claimed her father put her in prison for three years where she was tortured for hours at a time.

She said: “They told me, ‘Your father told us to beat you until we kill you’. So all this public image that he’s trying to portray — human rights — it’s bulls***.

“He’s the most evil person I’ve ever met in my life.” Latifa suffered a breakdown after she was released from prison, but she continued to dream of escaping.

She hatched a daring plan with her friend Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish fitness trainer. They were to drive to Oman, take jet skis and an inflatable boat to a yacht waiting in international waters and sail to India.

From there Latifa would fly to the US and claim political asylum.

Before she fled, the princess recorded a YouTube video, saying she feared for her life, and added: “If you are watching this video, it’s not such a good thing. Either I’m dead or I’m in a very, very, very bad situation.”

But a week into the voyage, ­commandos stormed the yacht, firing stun grenades and tear gas.

Tiina said: “Latifa was screaming and kicking. She kept saying, ‘Don’t take me back to the UAE. Just shoot me here.’ ”

In the video released this week, Latifa claimed she was tranquillised after trying to fend off one of her captors.

She said: “He grabs me. Lifts me up. Kicking and fighting, he’s much bigger than me. So I see that his sleeve is rolled up and arm exposed. I had one shot. Bit as hard as I can, and shake my head. And he screamed.

“This guy came with a small pouch and he took out the needle and he injected me in my arm.”

Latifa says she was stretchered on to a private jet and flown back to Dubai.
Fearing for the princess’s life, Tiina went public with the help of a human rights group.

Sheikh Mohammed was under mounting pressure from the United Nations over his daughter’s disappearance, and needed to show “proof of life.” Nine months later she was seen for the first time meeting former Irish president Mary Robinson. Afterwards the ex-UN envoy declared Latifa was “troubled” and suffering from ­bipolar disorder.

‘Form of torture’

But Robinson told Panorama that she was horrified to learn the private lunch, organised by the Sheikh’s sixth wife Princess Haya, 46, was in fact a publicity stunt.

She said: “I was misled, initially by my good friend Princess Haya, because she was misled.

“I was particularly tricked when the photographs went public. That was a total surprise . . . I was ­absolutely stunned.”

Princess Haya says the Sheikh had convinced her he had “rescued” Latifa from an extortion plot. In 2019, she said of claims Latifa was imprisoned: “If I thought for a second that any shred of this was true, you know, I wouldn’t put up with it or stand for it.”

But a few months later Haya and her two young children fled Dubai for London after an affair with her bodyguard was made public. She later filed for divorce.

Marcus, however, believes Haya left her husband because she finally realised the truth about what had happened to Latifa.

Last year a High Court custody battle in London ruled in Haya’s favour, with the judge stating that it was clear the Sheikh’s regime had imprisoned his two daughters.

Meanwhile, Tiina has never given up on her friend. She formed ­campaign group, Free Latifa, and took the case to the UN. Finally, in April 2019, Tiina got a phone call from a stranger, who put her in touch with the princess directly.

Tiina said: “When I first heard her voice, I was crying. I couldn’t help it. It was very emotional.”

With Tiina’s encouragement, ­Latifa started filming video ­messages from her bathroom where she was not being watched.

Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, called the video “shocking”.

He said: “This woman is imprisoned. It’s basically solitary confinement except for her jailers.

“Solitary confinement of that sort is broadly considered to be a form of torture, as it becomes prolonged in the way this has right now.” The princess spoke daily with Tiina, Marcus and lawyer David Haigh, co-founder of the Free Latifa group, until suddenly, contact stopped ­several months ago.

The trio decided to make public Latifa’s videos in an effort to get the UN to petition for her release.

Tiina said: “We haven’t taken this decision lightly, there’s been some sleepless nights thinking about this. But it’s time to do something.
“I feel that she would want us to fight for her, and not give up.”

The authorities in Dubai and the UAE insist Latifa is safe and being cared for by her family. But her ongoing silence has Tiina convinced otherwise.

She said: “We are extremely worried about her wellbeing. If we assume she was caught with the phone, her conditions now are probably a lot worse.”

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