New Delhi: A United Kingdom Court Tuesday ordered United Arab Emirates Prime Minister and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum to pay upwards of £550 million (approximately Rs 5529.21 crore) to his ex-wife Princess Haya Bint Al-Hussain, in what the UK media has described as the largest divorce settlement in the country’s legal history.
The reported figures pale in comparison, however, to some others from across the world, including business tycoon Jeff Bezos’ 2019 divorce from his wife MacKenzie Scott (with a settlement worth $38 billion), media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s 1999 divorce from Anna Maria Torv (worth $1.7 billion, though this has been a matter of dispute), Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev’s 2014 divorce from Elena Rybolovleva (involving a settlement of $4.5 billion, later reduced to $609 million) or former Formula One CEO Bernie Ecclestone’s 2009 divorce from Slavica Radic, which included a settlement of £60 million/year.
According to a report in The Telegraph, the Sheikh Al-Maktoum-Princess Haya settlement forms part of a wider trend of “divorce tourists” looking at the UK as a destination better suited for asset splitting, compared to their own countries.
“Russian divorce courts, in comparison, are not able to deal with assets that are not held legally by a spouse — so for oligarchs holding millions of pounds in trusts, this means only part of their wealth is taken into account in any decision,” The Telegraph report stated.
The most expensive divorce settlement in UK legal history, prior to that of Sheikh Al-Maktoum-Princess Haya, was that of Azerbaijani-origin Russian billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov and his estranged wife, Tatiana Akhmedova.
In May 2017, the Guardian reported that a UK court had awarded Tatiana a £453 million settlement. According to a Bloomberg report, in July 2021, this amount was reduced to £135 million, following a battle over nine jurisdictions as Farkhad refused to pay the originally ordered amount.
Another large, high-profile divorce settlement in the UK was that of billionaire hedge fund manager Chris Hohn, who in 2014 was ordered to pay his ex-wife Jamie Cooper £337 million, and in 2020 ordered to pay £270 million to her charity.
However, the Sheikh Al-Maktoum-Princess Haya case is different from these, in that it is not just a high-profile divorce case, but also involved allegations of security threat made by the Princess against her former husband.
Details of the divorce
According to reports in the BBC and the Guardian, the Sheikh Al-Maktoum-Princess Haya settlement includes an upfront lump sum payment of £251.5 million, compensation for the couple’s two children, and a £290 million bank guarantee for annual payments.
In a written judgement, Justice Moor emphasised the vulnerable situation of Princess Haya (who is also the daughter of King Hussein of Jordan) and her children, arguing that they faced a unique security threat from Sheikh Al-Maktoum himself, an ally of the United Kingdom government.
Princess Haya had fled Dubai for the UK in April 2019, citing fears over her safety after she had allegedly found that Sheikh Al-Maktoum had ordered the abductions of two of his daughters (from an earlier marriage), Princess Latifa in 2018, and Princess Shamsa in 2000, both of whom had fled overseas and were subsequently “abducted” and brought back to the Emirate.
According to a court’s fact-finding judgment published in March 2020, Sheikh Al-Maktoum was not only held responsible for the abductions, but also for threatening Princess Haya and her children, the BBC had reported last year.
India had also come under the scanner in the Princess Latifa incident, due to video allegations made by her that her capture off the Indian coast was carried out by a collaboration between special forces from India and the UAE.
According to the Guardian, the UK high court had earlier this year ruled that, on the balance of probabilities, Sheikh Al-Maktoum had used NSO Group’s spyware Pegasus to hack phones belonging to Princess Haya and her legal team, and directed agents to purchase an estate on his behalf, in an attempt at intimidation towards her. The estate is located adjacent to Princess Haya’s home in the UK county of Berkshire.
The report also included a statement issued by Al-Maktoum after the high court judgment, where he claimed, “As a head of government, I was not able to participate in the court’s fact-finding process. This has resulted in the release of a ‘fact-finding’ judgment which inevitably only tells one side of the story.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)