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Dubai ruler hacked ex-wife using NSO Pegasus spyware, high court judge finds

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Dubai ruler hacked ex-wife using NSO Pegasus spyware, high court judge finds

The ruler of Dubai hacked the phone of his ex-wife Princess Haya using NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus spyware in an unlawful abuse of power and trust, a senior high court judge has ruled.

The president of the family division found that agents acting on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, a close Gulf ally of Britain, hacked Haya and five of her associates while the couple were locked in court proceedings in London concerning the welfare of their two children.

Those hacked included two of Haya’s lawyers, one of whom, Fiona Shackleton, sits in the House of Lords and was tipped off about the hacking by Cherie Blair, who works with the Israeli NSO Group.

In July, a Guardian investigation revealed for the first time that Haya and her associates were on a dataset believed to indicate people of interest to a government client of NSO, thought to be Dubai.

Sir Andrew McFarlane’s damning judgment from 5 May, only now published, appears to confirm that finding – which was part of the Pegasus project investigation – and goes further in saying that unlawful surveillance was actually carried out.

Haya’s phone was found to have been hacked 11 times in July and August last year with Sheikh Mohammed’s “express or implied authority”.

The Met police said it was informed of the alleged hacking last year and detectives carried out “significant inquiries” over the course of five months but the investigation was closed in February due to “no further investigative opportunities”.

Although McFarlane’s findings were on the lower civil standard of proof, which requires a conclusion on the balance of probabilities rather than the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt, a Met police spokesperson said: “We will of course review any new information or evidence which comes to light in connection with these allegations.”

In another judgment by McFarlane, one of 11 rulings to which news organisations were granted access on Wednesday, it was revealed that agents working on behalf of the sheikh had attempted to buy a £30m estate next door to Haya’s Berkshire home. In response, the judge created a 100-metre exclusion zone around her property and a 1,000ft no-fly zone above it to protect her from the sheikh and his agents.

In his phone-hacking judgment, McFarlane criticised Sheikh Mohammed in the strongest terms.

“The findings represent a total abuse of trust, and indeed an abuse of power, to a significant extent,” he said. “I wish to make it plain that I regard the findings that I have now made to be of the utmost seriousness in the context of the children’s welfare. They may well have a profound impact upon the ability of the mother and of the court to trust him with any but the most minimal and secure arrangements for contact with his children in the future.”

On one occasion, according to the judgment, when Haya’s phone was hacked, 265 megabytes of data was uploaded, equivalent to about 24 hours of digital voice recording data or 500 photographs. It occurred during a period described by McFarlane as “a particularly busy and financially interesting time in these proceedings, with the buildup to key hearings relating to the mother’s long-term financial claims for herself and the children”.

In a witness statement, the sheikh, who has not appeared in court throughout the proceedings – unlike his ex-wife who was a regular attendee – argued that “it is hard to see how the hacking allegations make a substantial difference” to his contact with his children, but this was dismissed out of hand by McFarlane.

The latest judgments will increase scrutiny on Britain’s relationship with the UAE, coming after a December 2019 ruling by McFarlane that found the sheikh orchestrated the abductions of two of his other children, Princess Latifa and Princess Shamsa – in the latter case from the streets of Cambridge – and subjected Haya to a campaign of “intimidation”.

McFarlane used the opportunity of the phone-hacking ruling to criticise the sheikh’s claim after the December 2019 judgment in which the Dubai ruler said: “As head of government I was not able to participate in the court’s fact-finding process.” McFarlane stated this was untrue as the sheikh had submitted two witness statements to that trial and had had a large legal team that he had instructed to withdraw from the courtroom rather than participate.

Sheikh Mohammed’s expensively assembled legal team had attempted to prevent McFarlane ruling on the phone hacking by claiming that the court had no jurisdiction to sit in judgment on a foreign act of state, namely the alleged use of spyware by the UAE and/or Dubai. However, in separate hearings this was rejected by the high court and court of appeal, with the supreme court refusing to allow a further appeal.

Haya fled to London in April 2019 with the couple’s two young children, triggering a still ongoing legal battle over custody, access and financial support.

In a witness statement supporting her application for the exclusion zone around her Castlewood House home, previously occupied by Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, Haya said: “It feels as if I am being stalked, that there is literally nowhere for me to go to be safe from [her ex-husband], or those acting in his interests. It is hugely oppressive … I feel like I cannot breathe any more; it feels like being suffocated. I don’t want the children to live with the kind of fear that punctuates my existence at all times. They do not deserve this.”

On 9 December last year, granting her request, McFarlane said that in the abduction of his two adult daughters, the sheikh had demonstrated “his ability to act and to do so irrespective of domestic criminal law”, explicitly referencing the fact that Shamsa was taken from Cambridge to Dubai by helicopter. “The mother is justified in regarding the purchase of a substantial estate immediately abutting her own as being a very significant threat to her security, both in terms of providing an opportunity for 24-hour close surveillance and as a close-to-hand transport hub for a helicopter,” the judge said.

After the findings were published, Sheikh Mohammed issued a statement in which he continued to deny the allegations relating to hacking.

“These matters concern supposed operations of state security. As a head of government involved in private family proceedings, it was not appropriate for me to provide evidence on such sensitive matters… Neither the Emirate of Dubai nor the UAE are party to these proceedings and they did not participate in the hearing. The findings are therefore inevitably based on an incomplete picture.”

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Grammys add new categories, including songwriter of the year

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Grammys add new categories, including songwriter of the year

The Grammys are adding a special song for social change award and five new categories including songwriter of the year, giving the Recording Academy an avenue to honor music’s best composer.

The academy announced Thursday that the new non-classical songwriter category will recognize one individual who was the “most prolific” non-performing and non-producing songwriter for a body of new work during an eligibility year. The category is taking a different approach than song of the year, which awards the songwriter or songwriters who wrote the lyrics or melodies to one song.

“This new category is truly for an expert person at the songwriting craft,” Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr told The Associated Press. Songwriters must have written a minimum of five songs in which they are credited “solely” as a songwriter or co-writer.

“Somebody who writes their own music and records it would not be eligible,” he said. “They would have to be doing songs for others. We want to highlight the craft of writing songs professionally for artists.”

“Songwriters are at the heart of our business and industry,” he said. “Nothing happens without songwriters. For us, this was a no brainer. It’s in alignment with all the changes. We thought, ‘How can we do more? Showcase more people and be more inclusive to different genres?’”

The new category is another huge step for songwriters. Last year, a rule update allowed that any songwriter, producer, engineer or featured artist on an album nominated for album of the year could ultimately earn a nomination.

The four other categories include best spoken word poetry album, alternative music performance, Americana music performance and score soundtrack for video games and other interactive media.

The academy created a special merit award that determines best song for social change. The award will be based on lyrical content that addresses a timely social issue and promotes “understanding, peacebuilding and empathy.”

“It’s always the right time to recognize music that’s changing the world,” he said. “I think it deserves a special recognition. These songs are important and impactful. We want to make sure we’re honoring and celebrating that artform. This is a great way to do that.”

Mason said it was yearlong process of accepting proposals to make changes, additions and updates from music creators and professionals that make up the membership body.

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Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee kicks off with pomp

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Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee kicks off with pomp

Four days of celebrations honoring Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne got underway Thursday with a display of British military traditions stretching from the days of horse and cannon to the jet age.

Formal celebrations for the Platinum Jubilee began with Trooping the Color, an annual military review that has marked the sovereign’s official birthday since 1760. The queen is expected to join the working members of her family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at the end of the event, when 70 aircraft are set to roar overhead.

The jubilee is being commemorated with a four-day holiday weekend. The celebration of Elizabeth’s reign includes a service of thanksgiving Friday at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, a concert at Buckingham Palace on Saturday and a pageant staged by thousands of performers drawn from schools and community groups around the country on Sunday afternoon.

Throughout the weekend, neighborhood organizations and individuals are expected to hold thousands of street parties around the country, repeating a tradition that began with the queen’s coronation in 1953.

The 96-year-old queen is Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and the first to reach the milestone of seven decades on the throne. The jubilee is giving many people — even those often indifferent to the monarchy — a chance to reflect on the state of the nation and the huge changes that have taken place during her reign.

Former Prime Minister John Major — one of the 14 prime ministers of the queen’s reign — said the monarch’s stoic presence had helped steer the country over the decades,

“The queen has represented our better selves for over 70 years,” he told the BBC.

In a written jubilee message, the queen thanked people in Britain and across the Commonwealth involved in organizing the celebrations. For many, the occasion is the first opportunity for a big bash since the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than two years ago.

“I know that many happy memories will be created at these festive occasions,” Elizabeth said.

“I continue to be inspired by the goodwill shown to me, and hope that the coming days will provide an opportunity to reflect on all that has been achieved during the last 70 years, as we look to the future with confidence and enthusiasm,” she said.

Congratulations arrived from world leaders. French President Emmanuel Macron called Elizabeth “the golden thread that binds our two countries” and one of “very few constants” on the international stage.

“You are our friend, such a close ally, our example of service to others,” Macron told the queen in an English-language video message.

The name of the long weekend’s first event, Trooping the Color, refers to a regimental flag, or “color,” that is trooped through the ranks. Britain’s annual tradition for the queen’s birthday is a ceremonial reenactment of the way battle flags were once shown to soldiers to make sure they would recognize a crucial rallying point if they became disoriented in combat.

The troops taking part come from the army’s Household Division, composed of the seven regiments that perform ceremonial duties for the queen. Their members are fully trained soldiers and often deployed overseas when not on ceremonial duty.

Each year a different unit has the honor of trooping its color. The 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards will have the spotlight during the Platinum Jubilee.

Thousands of people, some of whom camped overnight, lined the parade route — many of them sporting Union Jack flags, party hats or plastic tiaras.

Carly Martin, who caught a late-night bus from south London with her daughter, said she had come “to make memories.”

“You’re never going to see this again in your lifetime,” she said. “At least not in mine, maybe not in my daughter’s. … Seventy years — it is all I have ever known.”

Several protesters were arrested after getting past barriers and onto the parade route. The group Animal Rebellion claimed responsibility, saying the protesters were “demanding that royal land is reclaimed.”

Cheers and the clop of hooves rang out as horse-drawn carriages carried members of the royal family, including Prince William’s wife, Kate, and their children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards Parade, a ceremonial parade ground about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) away.

The queen is expected to appear twice on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, but Prince Charles is playing play a key role during the event. Mounted on horseback, he will take the salute from ranks of scarlet-clad Guards on his mother’s behalf, along with his sister, Princess Anne, and his son Prince William.

Elizabeth has had trouble getting around of late, and her courtiers have been careful to keep make things as simple for her as possible.

Senior royals including Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla, traveled in carriages to watch the ceremony from a building overlooking the parade ground.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will join other royals to watch the spectacle. Harry and Meghan have traveled from their home in California to take part in the celebrations.

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Buhari congratulates Bishop Okpaleke on appointment as Pope’s Cardinal

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Buhari congratulates Bishop Okpaleke on appointment as Pope’s Cardinal

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on Wednesday expressed happiness over the appointment of Bishop Peter Okpaleke of Ekwulobia Diocese, Anambra State, as a Cardinal in the Catholic Church by Pope Francis.

In a statement signed late Wednesday by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, Buhari commended the Pope for finding a capable Nigerian in the person of Bishop Okpaleke to be one of the two nominees from the African continent.

The statement is titled ‘President Buhari welcomes appointment of Bishop Okpaleke as 4th cardinal from Nigeria.’

According to Shehu, President Buhari also “congratulated the Nigerian Christian Community on this choice, describing the Cardinal-designate as ably qualified, and that having him in that position will benefit the country.”

The statement partly read, “The President also commended the commitment of the Catholic Church to the unity, peace, and progress of the Nigerian state. He also highlighted the effort of the Church in combating the COVID-19 pandemic as well as its support and commitment in favour of the poor and most vulnerable members of the society.”

Bishop Okpaleke becomes the fourth Cardinal from Nigeria. Others before him are Francis Arinze, Anthony Okogie and John Onaiyekan. He is among the 21 new Cardinals Pope Francis announced on May 29.

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