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Biggest divorce settlement in UK history: London court awards Princess Haya £554 million

London has come to be known as the divorce capital, because of the multi-million pound settlements that have been awarded here. But as the judge observed, this case was “entirely out of the ordinary”.

December 26, 2021 / 01:37 PM IST
HRH Princess Haya Bint al Hussein of Jordan meeting Tracy Edwards MBE in Jordan in November 2017, to discuss memories of HM King Hussein of Jordan. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons 4.0)

HRH Princess Haya Bint al Hussein of Jordan meeting Tracy Edwards MBE in Jordan in November 2017, to discuss memories of HM King Hussein of Jordan. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons 4.0)

It is Britain’s biggest divorce settlement, yet it does not include the full range of financial claims a spouse can seek. Earlier this week (Tuesday, December 21, 2021) when the judgment of the high court in London came out awarding £554 million (around Rs5,591 crore or $734 million) to Princess Haya Bint Al-Hussain, the former wife of Sheikh Muhammad, the ruler of Dubai, it broke the record of £453 million conferred to Tatiana Akhmedova, estranged wife of Russian billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov, in 2017.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum who is the vice-president and prime minister of the UAE had married Princess Haya in 2004. She was born in the royal family of Jordan, attended an expensive boarding school in England and graduated from the University of Oxford. Sheikh Muhammad was 55 and Princess Haya was 30 when they married; she became the ruler’s second “official wife”. The couple had a keen interest in horses (the Princess had represented Jordan in the equestrian event at the 2000 Sydney Olympics), and were a regular fixture at the Ascot races where they rubbed shoulders with the British Royalty and the glitterati.

Far removed from the ultra-chic setting of Ascot, where the loving couple would be a natural before the zooming cameras, the Royal Courts of Justice at Strand, housing the family division of the high court, emerged as the main source for pictures of the solitary Princess who would trudge along minus her flair, hat and husband.

Close to three years of making the rounds of the court, she has now secured that the 72-year-old ruler of Dubai must pay a lump sum of £250 million towards security for her and their two kids; provide a bank guarantee of £290 million as maintenance for the children, which includes £5.1 million towards nine weeks of yearly holidays, £11 million pounds for annual security costs; £21 million compensation for the Princess’s lost chattels; £9.6 million in arrears.

Messy doesn’t even begin to describe fully the legal proceedings which began soon after Princess Haya left Dubai with her two kids in April 2019. Since then, a series of case management decisions, fact-finding judgments, and whether they should be made public (reaching right up to the UK Supreme Court) marked the unraveling of the luxurious and secretive inner world of Dubai’s royal family. Sheikh Mohammad divorced Princess Haya in February 2019, after it came out that she had had an affair with one of her close protection officers who was formerly in the British Army.

Close

According to submissions in the court, Princess Haya’s adulterous relationship and her interest in matters relating to Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa had met with Sheikh Muhammad’s disapproval, to say the least.

Matters reached such proportions that the Princess found a gun on her bed and was also threatened to be taken to a prison in the desert. Citing these instances, Princess Haya claims that it was a climate of fear and intimidation that forced her to come to the UK for her well-being as well as that of her two children.

In the UK, she had access to two properties – a country home in Egham, Surrey, and a marquee residence near Kensington Palace. The former is valued at £4.5 million and latter is valued at around £100 million. But after her departure from Dubai, Sheikh Muhammad snapped the funds and soon enough she was forced to fall back on her own devices.

In the absence of her generous £10 million annual allowance, she sold jewellery, handbags, clothes and horses to ensure that her substantial living and legal expenses were met. She also used funds from the children’s accounts to pay £6.7 million to four security staff after she was blackmailed over an affair she had had with one of them. From August 2019 to July 2021, she sold assets to the tune of over £15 million. A huge chunk of this comprised horses which were sold for £9 million, jewellery for £2 million, clothes over £2 million, and a property which fetched £2 million. She just stopped short of selling the paintings as it would have been difficult to explain empty space on the walls to the children.

This was a remarkable contrast to when the couple, much in love, had spent a whopping £2 million on strawberries in just one summer. During a holiday in Italy, hotel bookings cost £631,000, with a further £180,000 for the flights; a holiday in Greece led to a hotel bill of Euro 274,000 with flights costing £210,000. Average weekly expenditure on such holidays would come to £55,000, to ensure high-level security and privacy, which could involve hiring a private yacht.

Thus, the £554 million award was in line with the “truly opulent and unprecedented standard of living”. The figure was arrived at by Justice Moor after concluding “what is reasonable while remembering that the exceptional wealth and remarkable standard of living” had made the case “entirely out of the ordinary”. But as stated in the beginning, this figure was arrived at without the court deciding on the financial liability of Princess Haya as the ex-wife of the Dubai ruler. That was because she told the court that she does not want to exercise that option, but did not fail to highlight that after mothering two children in a marriage that lasted 18 years, she “had a legitimate claim in her own right”.

But the Sheikh’s lawyer had submitted that they would have opposed any application for her personal substantial provision other than her claimed security needs. In any event, in Princess Haya’s application, the only individual component pertaining to her revolved around her lifetime personal safety and security costs as the mother and primary carer of their two kids. Had that not been the case, a full trial to assess her share in her husband’s assets would have potentially meant a far more intense battle which would have involved further mudslinging.

She did, however, seek £97.8 million compensation for the chattels lost due to the marital breakdown. This included £20 million for jewellery, £32 million for garments, £2 million for cars, a whopping £20 million related to horses, and another £20 million to cover the contents in the palaces and other items left behind in Dubai.

The court ruled that the race horses claimed by Princess Haya were owned by Sheikh Muhammad’s Godolphin stable and did not belong to her. Taking into consideration the mammoth operation of Godolphin (in October 2019, Sheikh Muhammad had bought race horses worth £18 million) and Princess Haya’s “legitimate interest” in horses the court arrived at a figure of £5 million to ensure that she is “able to set up a small operation, buy reasonable horses and run them for several years.”

The compensation relating to jewellery and haute couture clothing also fell short of what the Princess had sought. A video of the walk-in safe that contained the Princess’s jewellery in Dubai was played for the court, which she valued a measly £20,000, saying that the large, valuable and costly diamonds, pearls, sapphires and emeralds were missing. In particular she told the court she had left behind a £1 million diamond set consisting of a necklace, ring and earrings.

Sheikh Muhammad’s position was that he did not have the jewellery, but his counsels did not fail to highlight that 66 shipments weighing 8,000 kg were moved from Dubai to the UK by the Princess in the run-up to the relocation. Why did she not take her most valuable items? The Princess stuck to her claim that she had only brought 25 percent of her jewellery leaving behind the rest as she did not want to be accused of stealing them. Besides, it would have been impossible to take away all the jewellery as they were so enormous that it could have filled an entire courtroom. She was awarded £13.6 million for the jewellery and £1 million for her clothes.

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum

Lawyers representing Sheikh Muhammad had told the court that he wouldn’t attend the proceedings, wouldn’t give written or oral evidence due to his unique position. He had earlier unsuccessfully tried to seek immunity, but the high court had ruled against him holding that that was not possible in relation to family proceedings. He filed through his big legal team ‘Position Statements’ and had also tried to keep the proceedings closed. He also took the stand that he should not be asked to make a financial disclosure as he was well-placed to meet all reasonable costs.

But it was the series of findings of unreasonable nature that inflated the figure awarded by the court. As mentioned earlier, it was the expense for the security that constituted the single largest component of the settlement. “The main threat the princess and her children face is from His Highness (Sheikh Muhammad) himself, not from outside sources,” Justice Moor observed.

In coming to this conclusion, he referred to a series of earlier judgments by the high court that concluded it was most likely that Israeli spyware was used to hack the phones of the Princess, her main lawyers and other staff members. Much significance was also attached to the high court finding that Sheikh Mohammad was responsible for the forced return of Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa.

At one point, Sheikh Muhammad had attempted to buy a property next to Princess Haya’s country home which had the effect of intimidating her to a “very marked degree”. Sheikh Muhammad maintained that these findings were based on incomplete evidence and that they tell only one side of the story. He has denied any intention of causing any harm to Princess Haya.

But all these findings went a long way in persuading Justice Moor that armoured vehicles, round-the-clock security, private planes were needed to ensure “water-tight security” for the Princess and the two children. The general threats of terrorism and kidnapping were also taken into consideration.

Courts in England are known to attract the high and mighty to pursue divorce cases. London has also come to be known as the divorce capital due to several instances of multi-million pounds awarded as divorce settlement. Having started to compute a very generous division of assets between spouses by viewing marriage as a partnership between two equals, a string of high profile cases have reached the courts in London. But this was not like any other case of divorce.
Danish Khan is a London-based independent journalist and author of 'Escaped: True Stories of Indian fugitives in London'. He is researching Indian capitalism at University of Oxford.
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