Dubai leader saddled with record breaking $700 million divorce settlement
LONDON - A British judge on Tuesday shed light on the lavish lifestyle of Dubais ruling family by awarding a record-breaking settlement worth in excess of $720 million to a princess in her custody battle with the ruler of the emirate.
The settlement concludes a long-running and acrimonious case that has played out in British courts between Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, 47, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, and her ex-husband, multibillionaire Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
During the trial, the court heard details of the immense luxury in which the princess lived before she fled Dubai with her two children, Zayed, 9, and Jalila, 14.
But the case also exposed a dark side to the glittering image of the Dubai royal family, including Mohammed's abusive behavior toward his wife and children, which prompted Haya to file for divorce and flee to Britain in 2019, saying that she feared for their lives.
The judge agreed that she faced genuine risks and awarded the bulk of the settlement toward providing potentially a lifetime of security for the princess and her children, including armored cars, cyber-protection, cameras and ballistic safeguards and bodyguards.
In October, a court ruled that Mohammed had used Israeli company NSO Group's Pegasus spyware to hack the phones of Haya, along with those of the closest members of her inner circle.
The court also heard evidence that Mohammed had abducted and brought back to Dubai two of his daughters, Princesses Latifa and Shamsa. Mohammed allegedly sought to buy a property neighboring one of Haya's homes and issued threats to her life, including a text message that said, "We can find you anywhere."
Justice Philip Moor, the High Court judge who presided over the case, said in his statement detailing the award that there is no question that Haya and her children face an ongoing threat to their safety from her former husband. "The main threat they face is from [Mohammed], not from outside sources," he said.
Mohammed, who did not attend any of the hearings, has denied all the charges through his lawyer. In a statement on Monday, a spokesman for the sheikh did not contest the amount. He said that Mohammed had "always ensured that his children are provided for" and requested that the media respect their privacy.
In total, the award comprises a lump sum of $333 million to cover living costs as well as annual payments for the children's education and security, to be secured with a guarantee of $385 million. Because it is unclear how long the annual payments will last, it is difficult to put a final total on the amount, but lawyers say it ranks as the largest single divorce payout in in British legal history.
In justifying the amounts, Moor cited the need to preserve the "truly opulent and unprecedented standard of living enjoyed by these parties."
In addition to security, the amounts are intended to cover the costs of the upkeep of Haya's two homes, near Kensington Palace in London and in the suburban town of Egham in Surrey, as well as vacations, clothes, horses 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 they had owned at their palace in Dubai.
Haya had originally sought in excess of $1.1 billion, but the judge reduced many of her claims. A request for $42 million to replace the haute couture wardrobe she was forced to leave behind in Dubai was cut to $1.3 million because, the judge said, he was unable to put a price on the items of clothing he was shown in a video.
A request for $26 million worth of jewelry was reduced to $18 million. A budget for the costs of hiring private planes for vacations was cut from $2.3 million to $1.3 million. Moor said he did not believe children should go on vacation too often, especially when they have school examinations coming up.
Among the requests the judge threw out was the cost of a car collection for Haya's son because, he noted, it wasn't necessary for a 9-year-old to own cars.
It was, however, important, he said, that the children "should be able to have a lifestyle that is not entirely out of kilter with that enjoyed by them in Dubai."
But Moor allowed the cost of a $1.9 million renovation to Haya's kitchen in London, including a pizza oven. "I remind myself that money was no object during the marriage," he said, by way of explanation.
While living in Dubai, Haya, who was Mohammed's sixth and youngest wife, received an annual budget of more than $100 million to run her household, and her children were given allowances in excess of $10 million a year each, the court had been told.
She would routinely spend vast amounts on vacations, including the hiring of private yachts and travel by helicopter. The hotel bill for one vacation in Italy came to more than $800,000, the judge noted. He awarded her $6.7 million to spend on vacations.
Her lawyer, Nicholas Cusworth, told reporters that Haya was not, "in the context of this case, wealthy." She had been forced to sell jewelry and racehorses worth $20 million while waiting for the settlement, and he said her legal fees had amounted to more than $90 million.
Mohammed's lawyer Nigel Dyer described some of Haya's claims as "absurd" and said she was seeking to enrich herself in the guise of providing for her children. He cited an allegation, which was not mentioned by the judge in his ruling, that Haya had an affair with a bodyguard and paid more than $8 million to blackmailers to stop them from revealing the liaison.
Moor ruled that the fabulous wealth enjoyed by the princess and her children before the divorce "takes this case entirely out of the ordinary."
"It will be quite impossible to replicate, pound for pound, the standard of living enjoyed before their parents separated," he said.