Three years ago, Sheikha Latifa, the daughter of the ruler of the Emirate, planned to escape her father's claws in remote corners of a sprawling shopping center in Dubai with close friend Tiina Jauhiainen. Their ultimate plan was like an action from a movie: Latifa disguised her appearance when the couple fled Dubai to the coast by car, took a dinghy, and drove jet skis to a waiting boat that frees the princess and her companion should. But it failed.
They were captured by special forces off the coast of India after an operation and brought back to Dubai. "The last time (I saw her) she kicked and screamed and was pulled off the boat. Her asylum applications were ignored," Jauhiainen told Reuters in an interview in London in late January.
In a verdict released on Thursday, a British judge ruled that Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum Latifa – like his older sister Shamsa from England almost two decades ago – had been kidnapped and treated inhumanely.
Jauhiainen testified on the case and appeared briefly in court in London to confirm that this is true. "In an overall assessment of the evidence relating to Latifa, I consider Tiina Jauhiainen's evidence to be of particular importance," said judge Andrew McFarlane in his decision, describing her as a "totally impressive person".
The fitness trainer got to know Latifa at the end of 2010 when she gave her classes in Capoeira, a martial art, about five times a week. They became close friends, but she said Latifa was calm and private. It took years for Latifa to confide in her, revealing that she tried to escape Dubai in 2002 as a teenager and then spent three and a half years in prison.
Reuters was unable to independently confirm Jauhiainen's version of the events she previously told the media. "It wasn't until 2016 that she told me about her sister Shamsa and her escape and her own detention," said Jauhiainen, a Finnish citizen. "I think she was very scared. She could have been locked up again."
The government's Dubai Media Office did not respond to a request from Reuters for comment on this story.
Former French spy
In the summer of 2017, Latifa, who informed Jauhiainen that she had not been allowed to leave Dubai since 2000 and had no passport, asked Jauhiainen for help trying to leave her home.
A few years earlier, Latifa had read the book "Escape from Dubai" by the former French naval officer and spy Herve Jaubert and wanted to contact him. Jauhiainen went to the Philippines to meet Jaubert, and the three began planning their escape.
For the two women, this meant secret discussions in the dazzling Dubai Mall, one of the largest shopping centers in the world. "We would find a corner, we would turn our cell phones off, so we took all precautions," said Jauhiainen, adding that Latifa would change her email address regularly to avoid detection.
"It was a little bit scary, so we didn't want anyone to overhear the conversations or follow us or anything." Jaubert told Reuters that he had planned to escape with Latifa and then asked Jauhiainen to meet him six or seven times in the Philippines to train her. After six months, they were ready to put their plan into action.
On February 24, 2018, Latifa was dropped off by her driver in a café in downtown Dubai, where she and Jauhiainen met regularly for breakfast. Inside, she went to the bathroom to change, dropped her cell phone, and the couple embarked on a six-hour drive from Dubai through Oman to the coastal capital of Muscat.
"I didn't sleep for two nights before the day of the escape," said Jauhiainen. "Latifa was sitting next to me in the front seat – she had never been in the front seat of a car, she was excited, happy."
In Muscat they met a friend of Jauhiainen, boarded a dinghy and clung to the sides in stormy conditions to reach international waters, where they boarded jet skis and boarded the US-flagged boat Nostromo.
They went to Goa, where Latifa wanted to travel to the United States to seek asylum. But on March 4, they were intercepted by command units from India and the United Arab Emirates, Jauhiainen said. "We had Indian Coast Guard boats around us, there were helicopters, planes, the whole boat was filled with smoke," she said.
"Latifa was kidnapped, kicked and screamed, and the rest of us were also kidnapped and taken to the UAE."
Jaubert said he commanded the ship and witnessed the raid. He said that an Emirati officer had taken Latifa off the boat.
He added that he was beaten for 45 minutes, but did not indicate by whom. Reuters was unable to independently verify his account. State Department spokesman Raveesh Kumar did not respond to a request for comment on India's alleged role in the operation.
Jauhiainen never saw Latifa again.
In Dubai, she said she was threatened, held in solitary confinement, and interrogated. It did not specify where or by whom.
"I was told I stabbed the ruler of Dubai in the back by helping (his) daughter escape," she said.
Two weeks before the attempt to escape, Latifa made a 45-minute video recording in Jauhiainen's apartment, which she passed on to supporters outside of Dubai if she could not escape.
This video, in which Latifa launched a bitter attack on her father, was released after it went to the Dubai-based campaign group Detained in Dubai and was released on YouTube.
Jauhiainen was released and abandoned three weeks after his return to Dubai.
Although they have lived in Dubai for 17 years, those they knew are no longer in touch, said Jauhiainen. Jauhiainen said that most visitors to Dubai lived in a bubble of sun, sea and shopping centers and did not know the truth about the country. "If the rulers' daughters are locked up because they just want to be free, what about the rest of the people there?"
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)