British courtroom grants Dubai chief’s ex-wife sole custody of kids

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LONDON — He is one of the richest real estate moguls in the world, the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of the emirate of Dubai, the flashy party town and jet-setter hub in the Middle East. And, according to British courts, he’s a seriously bad dad.

A British family judge ruled Thursday that Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum inflicted domestic abuse on an “exorbitant scale” against then-wife Princess Haya, awarding her sole custody of the couple’s two children.

In a written judgment, the senior family court judge, Andrew McFarlane, stated that Mohammed had “consistently displayed coercive and controlling behavior with respect to those members of his family who he regards as having contrary to his will.”

Mohammed is a close ally of both Britain and the United States.

The two-year legal battle — the divorce, financial settlement and custody fight — cast an unflattering light on the lavish lifestyles and jaw-dropping spending of Dubai’s ruling family, as well as the extent of Mohammed’s attempt to control his ex-wife, including the use of Israeli spyware.

The case began with Haya, the 47-year-old daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and Mohammed’s sixth and youngest wife. She said she feared for her life.

The princess first escaped to Germany, then London in 2019, with the couple’s children: son Zayed, now 10, and daughter al-Jalila, now 14.

In December, a British judge awarded Haya a record-breaking settlement — in excess of $720 million — in her custody battle.

In addition to payments for 24/7 security, the court awarded Haya millions to cover the costs of the upkeep of her two homes, near Kensington Palace in London and in the suburban town of Egham in Surrey, as well as vacations, clothes and salaries for staff.

The costs were diligently itemized — $500,000 for food during vacations; $368,000 to maintain three horses and other pets for the children; $51,000 to replace two Somersault sunken trampolines the family had owned at its palace in Dubai.

Last year, the court heard that Mohammed had allegedly sought to buy a home near Haya’s and issued threats, including a text message that said, “We can find you anywhere.”

Earlier in the proceedings, the court revealed that the ruler of Dubai used the Israeli NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to hack the phones of his estranged wife and members of her inner circle.

In Thursday’s ruling on child custody, McFarlane noted Mohammed’s failure to appear in court and his “absence of any acceptance of responsibility, expression of remorse or understanding of the impact of this behavior on the mother.”

Going forward, the judge said, the father will be limited to “indirect contact” with his children, allowed to see them through the phone but not in person.

Haya, in a statement, said, “The last few years have been a frightening journey and yet the sanctuary, protection and extraordinary compassion we have experienced in England have strengthened our belief in the enduring power of both humanity and justice.”

Mohammed’s representatives told the Guardian newspaper: “He loves his children and cherishes their love for him. He has always cared and provided for them, and always will. He maintains his denial of the allegations made in these contentious proceedings.”

Liz Sly in London contributed to this report.

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