Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, daughter of the ruler of Dubai, appeared in a video last month in which she claimed was being kept against her will by her family and facing torture. She would soon try to flee, the Emirati royal claimed in the video.
According to Britain-based advocacy group Detained in Dubai, by the time that video was released she had already tried to make her escape, using a yacht to try to escape detection. She was then intercepted in international waters near India by an unknown but heavily armed group, the group said.
Sheikha Latifa's advocates say she has not been seen since she was taken from the yacht. “What I can confirm is they took her and she was brought back,” a source said to be close to the Dubai government told Agence France-Presse earlier this month.
On Friday, the Indian newspaper Business Standard added new allegations of Indian involvement in the case of the runaway Royal — and even the personal involvement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
If true, it would be break from legal norms for asylum cases, the newspaper reported. London-based legal scholar Abhimanyu George Jain told Business Standard that if the royal had really faced torture “both international and Indian law would prohibit returning her to Dubai.”
The case comes as Modi has sought improved ties with the United Arab Emirates, the tiny but oil-rich state that sits at the gateway of the Persian Gulf. The two countries share a geostrategic interest in the Indian Ocean and work together on issues including anti-terrorism, trade and migration.
Modi has visited the United Arab Emirates twice since 2015, most recently in February 2018.
Both governments have kept silent about the allegations involving Sheikha Latifa; India's Ministry of External Affairs has said it was not aware of involvement in the case. The scandal surrounding Dubai's ruler and UAE prime minister, Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, came in the midst of a diplomatic crisis between a number of Arab Gulf nations and Qatar that has seen a misinformation war in the region.
On Friday, the Business Standard reported that “highly-placed government officials” said that India's leader Modi had personally signed off on a March 4 Coast Guard operation to intercept the Sheikha Latifa's yacht, the U.S.-flagged Nostromo, around 30 miles off the coast of Goa in the Indian Ocean.
According to the Business Standard, the operation involved “three Coast Guard ships ... helicopters and a maritime surveillance aircraft.” Sources told the newspaper that India was acted after New Delhi had received personal messages from Sheikh Mohammed saying that his daughter had been kidnapped.
Sheikha Latifa's advocates say that the Dubai royal had first fled to Oman and that she had been hoping to get from India to the United States, where she would try to claim asylum.
Her friend Tiina Jauhiaien and Finnish national later said in a statement that Sheikha Latifa was asking for political asylum when the armed men boarded the yacht and that as she was dragged away she said “I won’t go back to the UAE, just kill me now.”
Jauhiaien said that herself and another friend, Herve Jaubert, were taken back aboard the Nostromo to a naval base in Fujairah, one of the UAE’s seven emirates. Jaubert, a former agent of the French DGSE spy agency who had previously faced financial problems while living in Dubai, claimed to have been beaten while detained.
Sheikh Mohammed has multiple wives and he is believed to have several dozen children, according to the Associated Press, including at least one more named Latifa who has appeared in public more recently.
A woman who said she was a friend of Latifa and had visited her in Dubai, said that the princess was estranged from her father and saw him maybe once a year. The friend, who requested anonymity because she feared retribution by Dubai’s rulers, said the princess had told her she had difficulty traveling abroad, or even leaving her compound without a large retinue of royal chaperons. But there was no mention by the princess of physical abuse.
Latifa lived in Dubai with a brother and a sister, in a compound that had its own sports facilities, including stables. The princess’ escape from her circumscribed life appeared to be through extreme sports, the friend said, including scuba-diving, capoeira and skydiving.
Kareem Fahim contributed reporting
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