Earlier this month, India’s armed forces were reportedly named in a complaint submitted before the International Criminal Court over the alleged abduction of Dubai’s princess Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum in 2018.

This adds to long-running speculation and a British court’s 2020 fact-finding judgement pointing to India’s alleged involvement in the forced capture of Latifa – who was fleeing the United Arab Emirates – in international waters, allegedly at the request of her father and Dubai’s ruler Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

While Delhi has never commented on this alleged violation of international human rights laws, news reports have for long suggested that helping capture Latifa paved the way for the UAE to extradite arms dealer Christian Michel in return. He was wanted in a scam case.

Captured by Indian forces?

Late in February 2018, Latifa and her friend Tiina Jauhiainen reportedly took an inflatable boat and jet ski to travel into international waters off the Omani coast, where former French intelligence officer Hervé Jaubert was waiting in a United States-flagged yacht called Nostromo. Latifa was attempting to flee the UAE and reach the United States via India to claim asylum.

Just over a week later, the yacht was allegedly raided by Indian coast guard commandos in the international waters when it was off the coast of Goa. Latifa, then 32, was allegedly captured by Indian personnel and handed over to UAE forces, who took her back to Dubai. This action was allegedly requested by her father Sheikh Mohammed.

The Indian personnel kept shouting “who is Latifa”, Jauhiainen said while later describing the alleged armed raid to a British court in relation to a separate case. “After some time an Arabic man was brought onboard who identified Latifa,” the UK court cited Jauhiainen as alleging. “Latifa was shouting that she claimed asylum and that the Indian forces were breaking international law. She was ... simply ignored.”

Jauhiaien and Jaubert were also taken back to Dubai, before being released weeks later amid Western diplomatic pressure.

A photo provided by the United Arab Emirates News Agency shows Latifa (left) and former UN human rights chief Mary Robinson in 2018. Credit: AFP photo/HO/WAM

After Latifa’s capture, British human rights lawyer David Haigh released a pre-recorded video online purportedly showing her explaining why she had fled. Blaming her father, Latifa claimed that she and her elder sister, Shamsa, had been detained, threatened, tortured and forcibly drugged for years due to their efforts seeking personal freedoms. Latifa had unsuccessfully tried escaping the UAE in 2002 too.

The video had led to international concern and calls for Latifa’s release. While the UAE government maintained that Latifa was safe in her family’s care, another video – seemingly filmed secretly – circulated in February 2021 purportedly showing her allege that she was being held captive in a Dubai villa without access to medical or legal help.

In a surprising turn of events in June 2021, Instagram posts purportedly showed Latifa at shopping malls in Dubai, at the Madrid airport in Spain and in Iceland. In February 2022, Latifa said in a statement that she is “living as she wishes”, and was pictured in Paris alongside the then United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet.

UK court judgement

These details of Latifa’s capture were highlighted as part of a child custody battle in a British court between Sheikh Mohammed and his second wife, Haya Bint al-Hussein. In 2019, Haya – who is not Latifa’s mother – fled to the United Kingdom with her children. Haya cited Latifa’s case to argue that Dubai’s ruler posed a threat to her too.

In March 2020, British judge Andrew McFarlane who was hearing this case found allegations of the coast guard raid to be credible. “The account of … a seaborne assault by Indian military forces who, in turn, handed those on board, save for Latifa, over to the UAE military, is not challenged,” McFarlane said in his fact-finding judgement. “Indeed, [Sheikh Mohammed’s] short account would seem to confirm that he authorised action to be taken, on his terms, to ‘rescue’ Latifa.”

McFarlane added, “The description of the way in which Latifa was treated by the Indian security services and also, once the Arabic man had identified her, does not give any indication that this was a ‘rescue’ rather than a ‘capture’.”

Sheikh Mohammed, who also serves as the UAE’s prime minister, has denied allegations of Latifa being forcibly captured and detained, alleging that Jauber had “manipulated” her over time with the aim of extorting money. “To this day I consider that Latifa’s return to Dubai was a rescue mission,” the UK court quoted him as saying.

Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed and Haya in 2006. Credit: Ali Jarekji/Reuters

The latest complaint

This capture of Latifa had triggered an international uproar over Delhi’s alleged role, with the UN human rights commissioner’s office reportedly seeking India’s response to the charge of complicity. Human rights organisation Amnesty International also accused India of violating international human rights laws.

On Wednesday, The Wire reported that the so-called crime report attached as a supporting document in the complaint lodged with the International Criminal Court at The Hague in the Netherlands had named the Indian “armed forces”. The news report suggested that the Indian forces were named for alleged involvement in “hostile boarding of a US flagged yacht in international waters, armed assault and grievous bodily harm, conspiracy to commit murder, threatening life, kidnapping and unlawful detention, trespass, theft and unlawful damage to property and human rights violations and torture”.

The complaint before the Court, which reportedly also names Sheikh Mohammed and UAE’s former interior minister Ahmed Naser Al-Raisi, was filed on Jaubert’s behalf.

A quid pro quo?

Despite these allegations, India’s foreign and defence ministries have not commented on this matter so far.

In April 2018, the Business Standard had reported citing unidentified government officials that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had authorised the raid after key national security officials advised him that it was necessary for India’s counter-terrorism and strategic interests. The strategic partnership between India and the UAE have strengthened significantly in recent years.

In December 2018, it was widely reported that the extradition of Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the VVIP chopper scam case, to India that month, was allegedly in exchange of the help Delhi provided in capturing Latifa.