UK police vow to look at any new phone hack evidence against Dubai ruler

Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein of Jordan has been the centre of a bitter court battle in London with her ex-husband Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum. ©AFP

London (AFP) - British police vowed Thursday to review any new evidence that Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum authorised the use of spying software to hack the phones of his ex-wife and her UK-based legal team.

That follows a British court ruling published Wednesday that the phones of Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, her lawyers and others were hacked using Pegasus spyware during the couple's acrimonious divorce custody case in London.

The sheikh, 72 -- the vice-president and prime minister of the UAE -- gave his "express or implied authority" for 47-year-old Princess Haya's phone to be hacked with the software that is only available to governments, the High Court ruling said.

Presiding judge Andrew McFarlane concluded Sheikh Mohammed was "prepared to use the arm of the state to achieve what he regards as right", noting the surveillance of at least six phones was attempted.

They include the handset of her lawyer, Fiona Shackleton, a baroness and member of the upper chamber of parliament the House of Lords for the ruling Conservative party.

In a statement, London's Metropolitan police said specialist detectives had launched an investigation last year into the accusations.

That followed "multiple allegations of crime including unauthorised access and interception of digital devices and offences contrary to the Computer Misuse Act relating to six complainants".

Officers spent five months conducting "significant" inquiries and collaborating with "law enforcement partners", but the probe was closed in February, it added.

"All lines of inquiry were explored as far as possible," the Met said, noting that at the time there were "no further investigative opportunities".

The force added: "We will of course review any new information or evidence which comes to light in connection with these allegations."

Sheikh Mohammed has denied any knowledge of the hacking but his lawyers suggested another country like Jordan could be responsible in efforts to embarrass him.

The use of the Israeli-developed Pegasus software, which can track a person's location and read texts and emails, was revealed to Princess Haya's legal team in August 2020 following a tip-off by lawyer Cherie Blair, whose husband is former prime minister Tony Blair.

Rights groups have accused the software's developer, NSO, of allowing its spyware to facilitate state-sponsored repression after it was used to hack the phones of activists and journalists around the world.

A source close to NSO told AFP the group had cut off Pegasus services to the sheikh in December 2020, in line with the firm's stated rigorous procedures against illegitimate usage of its products.

"Whenever a suspicion of a misuse arises, NSO investigates, NSO alerts, NSO terminates," a spokesman said following Wednesday's ruling.

"NSO did not hesitate to shut down systems of past customers, worth above $300 million", he added.


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