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Dubai ruler must provide $733 million to settle U.K. custody case

The final sum is less than half of the 1.4 billion pounds that Haya bint al-Hussein had originally sought.
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Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Princess Haya bint Al Hussein in June 2016 in London.David M. Benett / Getty Images file

LONDON — 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, the judge, Philip Moor, said.

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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 jewelry and racehorses, and for her future security costs.

The sheikh, 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.

Jordan's Princess Haya bint al-Hussein in London in September 2018. Daniel Leal / AFP - Getty Images file

The huge financial 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.

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 armored 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.