Footage of a missing Dubai princess scuba diving in her palace as she prepares to flee her family has been shared with Sky News, along with new pictures of the young woman.
In March, Princess Latifa fled the UAE and a video was circulated online in which she made allegations of abuse at the hands of her father.
This week marks nine months since she was last seen – and Wednesday was the princess’s 33rd birthday.
Her case sounds stranger than fiction, but has been accepted by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, while the UN group on enforced disappearances heard evidence on her case earlier this year.
She attempted to escape with the help of French former spy Hervé Jaubert and long-time friend Tiina Jauhiainen.
After fleeing through neighbouring Oman, she made it onboard Mr Jaubert’s boat, The Nostromo, and set sail for the Indian coast.
The yacht was intercepted and those on board say they were beaten by armed men who boarded the ship and then detained in the UAE.
Both Ms Jauhiainen and Mr Jaubert say Latifa shouted that she was seeking asylum in India but was taken onto a helicopter. It is the last time they ever saw her.
“Latifa was determined to leave Dubai… She said it was worth taking any kind of risk as she had literally had enough of her life in Dubai,” Ms Jauhiainen told Sky News.
“She was looking forward to the day impatiently and when with me it was the only topic we would talk about along all the things she wanted to do when she had what she had always wanted, her freedom,” she added.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Jaubert said: “Maybe Latifa did not make it. I’m not sure she is alive.”
In a statement to Sky News, the Dubai Ruler’s Court said: “We are aware and deeply saddened by the continued media speculation regarding Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al Maktoum. This private family matter has caused significant upset and distress for all concerned, most of all Sheikha Latifa.”
They add: “Her Highness Sheikha Latifa is now safe in Dubai.
“She and her family are looking forward to celebrating her birthday today, in privacy and peace, and to building a happy and stable future for her.”
Lawyers acting on the princess’s behalf told Sky News they were concerned about the statement from the Dubai Ruler’s Office saying: “If it is that Sheikha Latifa is with her family, and that this is a family matter for which she seeks no public concern, then why is she prevented from communicating this publicly, or to any individual that she considers to be a friend.”
The statement added: “The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Sheikha Latifa remains detained against her will.”
Never before seen photos shared with Sky News show Latifa feeding lion cubs with Ms Jauhiainen, sky diving and spending time with friends.
As well as a video of Latifa laughing with Ms Jauhiainen, another friend and her child, a short clip shows the princess training for her future escape by scuba diving in her family pool.
The video was taken by Ms Jauhiainen on 12 February 2018 in the grounds of the princess’s mother’s grand home.
Ms Jauhiainen said she drove the scuba gear and underwater scooter to the building that housed the pool.
“At this point the plan for Latifa’s escape was still for her to dive using a rebreather, diving gear, dive computer and an underwater scooter from UAE to Oman crossing the border…a distance of nearly 10 km underwater,” Ms Jauhiainen told Sky News.
“Training was a problem. One time we managed to go to her uncle’s beach house to practise but visibility was so bad that she couldn’t try out all the gear simultaneously.
“This time I was allowed to go inside her compound to ‘exercise’ but actually the plan was to test the gear.”
Ms Jauhiainen said they decided to abandon this escape plan after encountering too many problems.
Emails seen by Sky News show Latifa, who said she tried to flee the UAE aged 16, approached Mr Jaubert about a second escape attempt back in May 2012.
“My ultimate goal is to never return to this country again,” she writes in coded emails to Mr Jaubert, in which explains she hopes to gain refugee status in the UK or other Western countries.
A glimpse of Latifa’s nature can be seen in this email correspondence, where among worries for her own safety and those helping her, she speaks of trying to make sure her pet monkey is safely re-homed ahead of her running away.
In her emails, Latifa explores ways to bring her sister, Shamsa, with them on their escape attempt.
Cambridge police began an investigation into claims Shamsa was kidnapped off the streets of Cambridge in 2000.
In the Dubai Ruler’s Court statement, they also said: “Sheikha Latifa and Sheikha Shamsa are adored and cherished by their family.
“Unfortunately, Sheikha Latifa was vulnerable to exploitation primarily by Mr Herve Jaubert, a man with a criminal record. He and his accomplices demanded payment of a ransom of USD $100 million, shortly after Her Highness disappeared from Dubai, for her return.”