By Julia Webster
July 3, 2019

Princess Haya Bint al Hussein, the sixth wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the billionaire ruler of Dubai, is said to be seeking refuge in London after reportedly leaving her husband and fleeing Dubai. She is thought to be living with the couple’s two children in a mansion near Kensington Palace worth about $107 million.

According to the BBC, Princess Haya, who is the daughter of King Hussein of Jordan, is said to be “afraid for her life.” A person close to the royal family told the New York Times that she arrived London months ago, and is seeking political asylum while asking for a divorce. A legal battle between the couple is now underway in the London courts regarding divorce and the custody of the couple’s two children.

Sheikh Mohammed, 69, is a billionaire and racehorse owner that was seen speaking to the Queen at Royal Ascot, Britain’s most famous annual horse-racing event in June. Princess Haya failed to appear at this year’s event.

The couple married in 2004, with Princess Haya then becoming the sheikh’s sixth and youngest wife.

Princess Haya is thought to have sought refuge in Germany first. However it is thought she would prefer to stay in the UK, where she went to school and studied at the University of Oxford. She is also close to the British royal family.

While the reasons for Princess Haya’s move are as yet unclear, Sheikh Mohammed, who enjoys writing poetry, has seemingly been sharing his emotions online. In a recent post on Instagram, he accused an unnamed woman of treachery and betrayal.

Under Islamic law in the UAE, men can easily divorce their wives — but women must go through a long legal process. It is likely to be complicated in the UK due to it being a polygamous marriage, and will put the UK in a difficult position, considering its longstanding alliances with the UAE.

Sheikh Mohammed reportedly made an application to divorce his wife and claim custody of their two children in the Family Court division of the High Court. The case was last heard in the courts on May 22 before Mr. Justice Moor, and is next listed on July 30 with a time estimate of 2 days.

Reports in the British media say Sheikh Mohammed hired famous divorce lawyer Helen Ward to represent him. When asked to confirm this, Ward’s office refused to comment. Princess Haya is said to have hired Fiona Shackleton.

Princess Haya’s flight will likely be compared to a failed attempt by Sheikha Latifa, the daughter of another of Sheikh Mohammed’s wives, to escape Dubai last year. She was seized by a commando squad who boarded the yacht she used to flee the country. In a video she asked her friends to release only if she failed, the princess said she had been jailed and tortured after a previous attempt to leave.

Sheikh Mohammed’s office later issued a statement in December saying Sheikh Latifa was safe in Dubai, but she has not been publicly seen since. Photographs of her with Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and United Nations human rights commissioner, were published in December, in what seemed to be an attempt to show that she was safe and sound. But human rights groups said there remained serious concerns as to her state of health and whether she continued to be detained against her will. Princess Haya reportedly invited Robinson for the visit.

Write to Julia Webster at julia.webster@time.com.

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