LONDON — The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, hacked the phones of his ex-wife Princess Haya and her attorneys during the legal battle over custody of their two children, Britain’s High Court found Wednesday.
Sheikh Mohammed, who is also vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, gave his “express or implied authority” to hack the phones of the princess and her attorneys using Pegasus spyware produced by NSO Group of Israel, the court said. The software is licensed exclusively to nation states for use by their security services.
NSO has been at the center of allegations that governments are abusing electronic surveillance technology to spy on political opponents, human rights activists and journalists.
The hacking of Princess Haya’s phone came to light partly through the work of William Marczak, a fellow at Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog at the University of Toronto. In addition, NSO adviser Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, contacted one of the princess’ lawyers to inform her that the company suspected its software had been “misused” to hack into her phone.
The case highlights the danger posed by unregulated companies selling surveillance technology to “some of the world’s most repressive governments,” Marzcak said.
Wednesday’s decision is the latest episode in the long-running custody battle between Sheikh Mohammed, 72, and his estranged wife. Princess Haya, 47, fled to Britain with her children in April 2019, saying she had become terrified of her husband’s threats and intimidation.
Judge Andrew McFarlane has insisted throughout the case that Sheikh Mohammed needed to build trust with the court that he wouldn’t take unilateral action to remove the children from their mother’s care.
The judge previously ruled that Sheikh Mohammed conducted a campaign of fear and intimidation against his estranged wife and ordered the abduction of two of his daughters.
Sheikh Mohammed said after the ruling that he continued to deny the allegations, which concern “supposed operations of State security.”