The lapsed investigation into the disappearance of the ruler of Dubai’s daughter from the streets of Cambridge 20 years ago is to be reviewed, police have said.
Confirmation that detectives could revive their criminal inquiries follows a damning family court judgment that found – on the balance of probabilities – that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum orchestrated the abduction of two of his daughters, Sheikha Shamsa in 2000 and her sister, Sheikha Latifa, who was seized off a yacht in the Indian Ocean in 2018.
Both Latifa and Shamsa fled Dubai because of the restrictive lives they were forced to lead.
In a statement released on Friday, Cambridgeshire police said: “An investigation into the alleged abduction of Shamsa Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum in 2000 was carried out by Cambridgeshire Constabulary in 2001. With the evidence that was available to us this was insufficient to take any further action.”
A further review in 2017 again concluded there was insufficient evidence for further action.
While noting that the investigation is no longer active and the standard of proof in criminal cases was significantly different to family court proceedings, the force said: “However, in light of the recent release of the judgment, aspects of the case will now be subject to review.”
Despite the force’s denial that it is actively investigating Shamsa’s abduction, two witnesses who are close to Latifa have told the Guardian they were interviewed by officers from Cambridgeshire police’s major crime unit in the past year and handed over transcribed documents.
One of them was Tiina Jauhiainen, Princess Latifa’s close friend who was on the yacht when it was intercepted by Indian and Emirati commandos in the Indian Ocean in 2018. She also gave evidence about her experiences to the family court hearing.
She said: “I was interviewed by Cambridgeshire police last year. Officers also spoke to her cousin. I hope there will be further investigations.”
On the 2018 abduction allegations, Jauhiainen said: “I was told I would be getting a death sentence or life imprisonment when they took us back to Dubai. It was mental torture.
“I was told that if I wanted to I could jump into the sea because that would be an easier option than being sent back for interrogation in Dubai.” In the end, Jauhiainen was expelled from the United Arab Emirates.
Although the sheikh offered to waive any diplomatic or head of state immunity he might have in the UK, it was only in relation to the family court proceedings. The family court judgment also refers to three members of his staff who were allegedly involved in Shamsa’s abduction. They have not been identified.
There were fresh calls from human rights groups for the two missing women to be freed and for police to reopen their investigation into Shamsa’s abduction.
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East research director, said: “This ruling is a long-overdue step towards justice for Sheikha Latifa, who has been held incommunicado for two years now.
“Dubai and the UAE must now allow her to speak and travel freely, including seeking asylum abroad, if she wishes to do so. Throughout the hearing, Sheikh Mohammed has insisted these are ‘private family matters’ – but state-sanctioned abduction and inhuman treatment is not a family affair. It is a serious human rights violation, and a matter of international concern.
“Federal law in the UAE leaves women unprotected and undermined, which too often leaves them vulnerable to abuse by male family members.”
Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s director, added: “We’ve always believed that Cambridgeshire police needed to investigate Princess Shamsa’s alleged kidnapping for as long as there was credible evidence of wrongdoing.
“[Thursday’s] high court judgement would appear to support the case for a fresh – or re-energised – investigation into what happened to Princess Shamsa on a Cambridge street 20 years ago.”
But a former chief crown prosecutor, Nazir Afzal, said any pursuit of those behind the alleged abduction faced hurdles. The sheikh may claim his status gives him protection, he said. “I suspect he may have state immunity.
“The evidential threshold in the high court is different to that in the crown court,” said Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor in north-west England. “In the high court it is balance of probabilities and in the crown court it is beyond reasonable doubt. I doubt there is enough to go for extradition, even if there is the will.”
The sheikh has denied all the allegations against him. In a statement on Thursday, he said: “This case concerns highly personal and private matters relating to our children. The appeal was made to protect the best interests and welfare of the children … 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 tells only one side of the story.”
The Crown Prosecution Service declined to comment about why the original Cambridge police officer investigating the abduction, DCI David Beck, was prevented from travelling to Dubai to interview potential witnesses in 2002. Downing Street said on Friday that “The FCO [Foreign Office] had no role in the investigation or outcome.”