Somewhere amid the shiny glass towers of Dubai where Instagram influencers flaunt their bodies and their riches, stands a villa on the beach.
But this is no ordinary residence and its occupant is not one of the pleasure seekers who flock to the Arabian emirate for its luxury shopping, nightlife and sandy beaches.
For this is a prison and behind the locked doors and barred windows is Princess Latifa al-Maktoum, whose spectacular attempt to flee the country of her birth ended in her being drugged, kidnapped and incarcerated under armed guard in her ‘villa-jail’.
In a remarkable series of haunting videos smuggled from her captivity, the 35-year-old daughter of Sheikh Mohammed-al-Maktoum, Dubai’s autocratic ruler — and horse-race loving friend of the Royal Family — has described how she is being held hostage by her father and in fear for her life.
The remarkable footage, obtained by the BBC’s Panorama also reveals details of how her dramatic 2018 escape, involving jet skis and a yacht, ended in her brutal recapture and forced repatriation.
She says she was seized by gun-toting commandos who stormed her boat with smoke bombs and stun grenades, drugged her and returned her to Dubai where her captors told her she would ‘never see the sun again’.
Her desperate bid to break away from her suffocating life in the United Arab Emirates revealed the dark underbelly of life under the absolute rule of Sheikh Mohammed.
Last year the High Court in London ruled that he had not just ‘ordered and orchestrated’ the abduction of Latifa but also of a second daughter, Princess Shamsa, who was snatched outside a pub in Cambridgeshire.
At the same time the court found he waged a campaign of fear against his sixth wife, Princess Haya, 45, who fled to Britain last year with their children, Jalila and Zayed, terrified for her safety.
Princess Latifa has not been seen in public since December 2018, when she appeared in a stage-managed photo call with former Irish president Mary Robinson — labelled a PR stunt by some.
After that appearance in which Mrs Robinson declared the princess was ‘in the loving care of her family’ — remarks that triggered a storm — Latifa, who seemed to be under medication, vanished.
Until now. Friends managed to smuggle a phone to her and she began to secretly record videos about her capture. She filmed them in a bathroom as it had the only door she could lock.
Looking pale and frightened, she describe the dramatic moment when the yacht on which she made her failed escape attempt, skippered by a hired French adventurer, was boarded by Indian troops after eight days at sea.
Princess Latifa al Maktoum, the kidnapped daughter of Dubai’s ruler, has smuggled a series of haunting videos out of captivity describing herself as being held ‘hostage’ by her father
‘I kept saying you can’t take me back,’ she recalled. ‘I want asylum and we’re in international waters. You can’t kidnap me.
They were just on a mission and they were given orders.’ Latifa describes how she fought with two Emirati officers and bit one of them on the arm before her hands were zip tied and she was later tranquilised to keep her quiet.
Desperate to start a new life in the West away from the stifling conventions of Dubai, where all women must obey a man, she embarked on an escape that had all the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Smuggled from one of her father’s palaces, she was driven across the border into Oman from where she took a dinghy off the coast of the capital Muscat into the Arabian Sea.
There followed a rendezvous with Frenchman Herve Jaubert, a spy who had once escaped the UAE disguised in a burqa, and who was waiting for her with jet skis. They then sped across the waves 15 miles to his yacht Nostromo.
But the 100ft-long vessel was being tracked and was ambushed as she neared the Indian coast.
Photos taken in 2018 and released by the UAE ministry of foreign affairs showed Latifa posing with the former Irish president and UN high commissioner for human rights Mary Robinson
In her video messages, Latifa describes clinging on to the side of the vessel, before being dragged off on to the Indian military boat.
‘I was fighting as hard as I could. My flip flops came off so I was barefoot. I didn’t have any weapons. I was tied. I was up against a lot of people with weapons. It wasn’t easy,’ she says.
Once on the commandos’ boat she describes how she was restrained and drugged: ‘The one who was sitting on my stomach, he grabs my chest and he says to me: ‘Shut up, shut up’, so I got really, really angry and I was hitting him with my hands and screaming at him to get off me and I was so, so angry and I just kept fighting with him really hard.
‘Nobody cared, but eventually because I was really, really, really struggling a lot, the other Emirati guy told him: ‘Get off her’ and he sat on me and he helped the other guy tie up my legs but I was fighting.
‘This guy came with a small pouch, like a camouflage pouch and he took out a needle and he injected me in my arm.’
She passed out and when she came to she was already back in Dubai. ‘I noticed that my hands were like really bruised and swollen, especially my left hand, because the zip ties were still on me and I was still on the stretcher, still tied to the stretcher,’ she claims.
Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, on Derby day at Epsom in 2017 with his estranged wife Princess Haya of Jordan who later fled the country in fear for her life
For three months the princess says she was held in the Al Alwir jail before being transferred to the villa on the beach.
In the videos she describes her solitary imprisonment. ‘I am in a villa, I’m a hostage,’ she says.
‘This villa has been converted in to a jail. All the windows are barred shut. There are five policemen outside and two policewomen inside the house. ‘I can’t even go outside to get any fresh air.’
The recordings were made at considerable risk to her personal safety and smuggled out of Dubai to her supporters in Britain who are campaigning for her release.
The Princess — one of the Sheikh’s 30 children by six different wives — tells how she has been imprisoned and threatened with being shot unless she co-operates with the official statements issued by her father.
‘I don’t know when I will be released .. . Every day I am worried about my safety and my life, I don’t know if I am going to survive.’
Princess Latifa’s ID Card which states her full name as Sheikha Latifa Mohd Rashed Almaktoum
She adds: ‘The police threatened me that I’ll be in prison my whole life and I’ll never see the sun again.
‘I don’t want to be a hostage in this jail-villa, I just want to be free. I don’t know what they are planning to do with me, I really don’t know.’
The videos will be a source of embarrassment to Mrs Robinson who visited Latifa and following her meeting declared her a ‘troubled young woman’ without asking if she was being held against her will.
Mrs Robinson, a former UN commissioner for human rights, now says she was ‘horribly tricked’ into attending the stage-managed meeting and had been surprised to see photos of her ‘private’ meeting with Latifa released to the media.
She said she had been told the princess suffered from bipolar disorder and that she should not discuss the condition with her.
‘I was deeply tricked when the photographs went public, horribly tricked,’ she told the BBC.
Pictured: Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum with his sixth wife, Princess Haya, 45, who fled to Britain last year with their children, Jalila and Zayed, terrified for her safety
‘I mean that was a total surprise. I was absolutely shocked.’ The meeting had been arranged by the Sheikh’s now ex-wife Princess Haya, who was later to flee from Dubai in fear of her own life after her affair with one of her bodyguards was exposed.
In one video message Latifa says of Mrs Robinson: ‘She said I was mentally troubled. She said that I was a troubled young woman, and I had a serious medical condition and I was getting help for it.
‘That’s implying that I have psychiatric problems. She knew that I was OK . . . it was all a set-up.’
The secret messages emerged about a year after the princess’s recapture and are thought to have been filmed over several months.
Campaigners hope the videos will encourage the United Nations to press for the princess’s release.
They emerged after she made contact with a friend, Finnish fitness instructor Tiina Jauhiainen, who took part in the failed escape bid, and a lawyer, David Haigh, who together set up the Free Latifa campaign.
Tiina first met Latifa in late 2010 when she started giving her martial art lessons. Over the years, Latifa confided in her and in 2017 asked for help in trying to escape.
Speaking of the videos, Tiina said: ‘She is so pale, she hasn’t seen sunlight for months. She can basically move just from her room to the kitchen and back.’
Mr Haigh said: ‘These videos go right to heart of the lie that Princess Latifa is happy being held in Dubai.
‘She was kidnapped and is a held hostage. She has made these videos in the hope that the outside world will realise that she is being held against her will.’