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Factbox-Mansions, horses, and blackmail: The Dubai royals' custody battle

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By Reuters
Factbox-Mansions, horses, and blackmail: The Dubai royals' custody battle
Factbox-Mansions, horses, and blackmail: The Dubai royals' custody battle   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Michael Holden and Andrew MacAskill

LONDON – From buying racehorses on a whim to owning a roomful of jewellery, the London custody battle between Dubai’s ruler and his ex-wife has shone a light on the opulent lifestyle of ultra rich Middle Eastern royalty.

A ruling published on Tuesday by a judge at the High Court detailed an order to Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum to provide more than 554 million pounds ($733 million) to settle a long-running custody battle with his ex-wife, Jordan’s Princess Haya, over their two children.

Here are details of some of the evidence about their lifestyles from Haya, their legal teams and from the judge’s ruling.

BLACKMAIL

During the hearings, Haya was questioned about 6.7 million pounds in payments she had made to four unnamed members of her security team, who had threatened to expose an affair she was having with one of her bodyguards, and why she had used money from the children’s bank accounts.

“I was very frightened,” Haya said when asked why she had used money from the children’s accounts to pay them off. “I was scared and that was the money that was available in that amount.”

The first payment to a member of her security team was for 1.12 million pounds, before two more then also blackmailed her for more than 4 million. Finally a fourth man was paid 1.2 million pounds, the sheikh’s lawyer, Nigel Dyer, said.

“I realise I have not heard from the alleged blackmailers but nobody should be blackmailed and (Haya) must have been very frightened at this point,” judge Philip Moor said in his ruling.

“I have already recognised that it would have been better if (she) had used her own funds to deal with the blackmailers but I accept that she was in a very difficult position indeed. She would have been desperate for (Mohammed) not to find out.”

HOUSES

London residence: Haya bought her mansion in west London near Kensington Palace, home to Britain’s Prince William and his wife, in 2016 for 87.5 million pounds and it is now worth about 100 million pounds.

The court was told it was refurbished in 2017/8 at a cost of 14.7 million pounds, which included 9.3 million for structural work and 2.8 million for fixtures and fittings.

The princess asked for 1 million pounds a year towards a 10-year refurbishment, and for the sheikh to cover the costs of five housekeepers and a handyman, as well as a 223,000 pounds a year contract with a property maintenance company.

She also wanted 900,000 pounds a year for wear and tear – such as new curtains, carpets and replacement furniture, and 100,000 pounds to cover cleaning products, dry cleaning and appliances.

“We always kept it to a very high standard and that is the amount of people needed to keep it as it is now,” Haya said.

Moor agreed to the 10 million pound refurbishment, 500,000 pounds for wear and tear and 223,000 pounds for the maintenance costs.

Castlewood: The princess also requested large sums for the upkeep of her Castlewood mansion in Berkshire, west of London, which had been left to her by her father, the late King Hussein of Jordan.

She wanted 770,000 pounds a year for maintenance, and the costs of two estate managers and three housekeepers. Over 10 years, that meant spending 7.7 million pounds on a house worth only 4.5 million, Dyer said.

Moor awarded her running costs in full, 125,000 pounds annually for wear and tear and 200,000 pounds per year towards a 10-year refurbishment.

HORSES

“If I wanted a horse, I bought one,” Haya told the court in testimony about finances before her divorce.

During the custody battle, Haya claimed that over 400 racehorses had run in her name, including the Epsom Derby winner New Approach, and she or her children remained the registered owners and sought 75 million pounds in compensation for those that still belonged to her.

The sheikh, one of the world’s most influential horse owners and breeders, who with his brother set up the Godolphin horse racing stable, said the horses had run in her colours but belonged to Godolphin.

Dyer said the list of her racehorse claims grew from 16 to 26 to 62, and that some of the horses had died or been sold. He cited one horse, Ben Vrackie, for which she asked 400,000 pounds in compensation. It came last in its final race in September 2019 and was sold in May 2021 for 20,000 pounds.

In a statement to the court, Mohammed said Haya had never received any winnings from her horses. She said a 15 million-pound sum she had been paid by him in March 2018 after the Dubai World Cup was prize money, while he said it was for doing a good job of organising his guests.

“He said it’s my money, these are my horses you are my wife and you should have it,” Haya said. “It was an incredibly generous thing for Sheikh Mohammed to do.”

The judge ruled in his favour saying “it is obvious that the horses were part of Godolphin” because the stable paid for their upkeep and kept the winnings and stud fees, and agreed the 15 million pounds was a gift.

HOLIDAYSANDLEISURE

During her marriage, the family spent 631,000 pounds on one summer vacation in Italy and on another occasion the bill for a hotel in Greece was 274,000 euros, Moor said in his ruling.

He granted Haya’s request for funding to go abroad nine weeks of the year and two more weeks vacation in Britain, as well as three weekends in Jordan and three weekends in Britain.

Moor said he had to decide “what is reasonable whilst remembering that the exceptional wealth and remarkable standard of living enjoyed by these children during the marriage takes this case entirely out of the ordinary”.

The total award for holidays was 5.1 million pounds a year, including more than 1 million pounds for hiring private planes and almost a million for hotels and food.

Moor awarded her a further 1 million pounds to spend on leisure. He also granted 277,050 pounds a year for spending on pets, including 25,000 pounds to buy horses and 12,000 pounds for toys, grooming, and training of unspecified animals.

CLOTHESANDJEWELLERY

Haya, who said her ex-husband had been very generous to her during their marriage, asked for 52 million pounds as compensation for what she claimed were missing clothes and jewellery.

She said her collection of haute couture was worth about 74 million euros, and only the most basic items had been returned to her after she fled to Britain.

Haya said most of her jewellery, including diamonds, pearls, sapphires, and emeralds had been left in a palace in Dubai and subsequently disappeared. One diamond set alone including a necklace, ring and earrings was worth one million pounds.

“If you put all the pieces in that room spread across this court room, it would be full,” Haya said. “I was spoiled with wonderful gifts which I enjoyed very, very much at the time.”

The judge was shown a 23-minute video of a walk-in safe being opened in a Dubai palace where her jewellery was kept, and he said what was left seemed “pretty standard fare”.

He awarded her 13.7 million pounds for missing jewellery and the “relatively modest sum” of 1 million pounds for lost clothes.

PRINCEALI

Haya had funded an unsuccessful campaign by her brother, Prince Ali, to become president of FIFA in 2016 with the blessing of her ex-husband, the sheikh’s lawyer told the court.

He also said Haya had paid $5 million in October 2019 to her brother for the 10-year cost of maintaining his home in Jordan, Baraka Palace, and had provided him with 400,000 pounds a year in financial support during the marriage, with the sheikh’s agreement.

“Sheikh Mohammed was very kind to members of my family,” she said, adding she did not want Ali to be suddenly cut off nor her children to feel obliged to continue making the payments if something were to happen to her.