Rumors of drugs, murder and rehab: How did Sheikh Rashid really die?

Published September 22nd, 2015 - 07:02 GMT

He was the eldest son of Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum - a handsome royal playboy with a glittering future ahead of him.

But on Saturday, 33-year-old Sheikh Rashid was laid to rest after apparently dying of a heart attack at home on Friday.

Now, Daily Mail Online can reveal that the untimely death of Sheikh Rashid has left many questions unanswered - in particular what caused an apparently healthy man to die at such a young age.

Although the official cause of death has been given as a heart attack, allegations of drug and steroid abuse and of several stints in rehab have long percolated through Emirati society circles.

Rashid, who at one point held a number of high profile roles, quietly withdrew from public life in the years leading up to his death and became an enigmatic figure in the emirate he was once destined to rule.

Born in November 1981, Rashid was the son of Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed and his principal wife, Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum.

Sheikh Mohammed is a modernizer, albeit one with two wives and 24 children, and has transformed what was once a dusty patch of sand into a glittering modern metropolis.

He has also parlayed what was a small trickle of oil into tourist dollars, making Dubai, with its mega-malls and year-round sunshine into one of the top tourist destinations in the Middle East.

Through his Godolphin racing stable, Sheikh Mohammed is a prominent figure in the horse world and regularly attends prestigious race meetings such as Royal Ascot in Britain.

Sheikha Hind, by contrast, is almost never seen. The 53-year-old first cousin of her husband, she is known as 'the First Lady of Dubai' and is mother to 12 of his children.

Aged 17 when she married Sheikh Mohammed, Hind's wedding, estimated to have cost $100 million, was Dubai's first big public event.

But unlike Princess Haya of Jordan, Sheikh Mohammed's junior wife, Hind chose to become a traditional Arab matron and lives sequestered in accordance with the Islamic purdah system.

Men such as Sheikh Rashid, however, are not subject to purdah which made his low profile all the more mystifying to locals.

Provided with a princely education, Rashid's academic career began at the prestigious Rashid School for Boys in Nad Al Sheba.

Later, he moved to the UK to attend Sandhurst – a top training college for British military officers – before graduating in 2002.

On his return to Dubai, he assumed an increasingly high profile and took on a number of prominent public roles, as well as partnerships in a series of lucrative businesses.

He also opened a number of his own companies, among them United Holdings Group Dubai – a multidisciplinary investment group.

Like his father and brothers, he was also a passionate horseman and set up his own racing stable under the name of Zabeel Racing International.

With a personal fortune of an estimated $1.9 billion, he had no shortage of funds to invest and soon racked up an impressive number of winners – 428 in total.

He also developed an interest in endurance racing, the equestrian equivalent of the marathon, and in 2006, became a national hero when he picked up two gold medals at the Asian Games.

But less than a year later, Sheikh Rashid had all but disappeared from public life – and, in 2008, was stripped of the title of crown prince.

A third brother, Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, 31, was given the title of deputy ruler of Dubai at the same time. 

Quite why this should have happened remains unclear, with the official explanation being that the current incumbent Hamdan, 32, was simply better suited to the job.

That, however, was not the explanation bandied about in the upper echelons of Emirati society at the time or, indeed, as it later became clear, among the diplomatic community.

One particularly lurid version of events appeared in a confidential memo written the then Acting Consul General David Williams for the CIA the same year.

The diplomatic cable was one of thousands released by Wikileaks and offers a fascinating insight into what really went on behind the scenes at the Zabeel Palace.

Noting that the move wasn't a complete surprise because of Hamdan's increasingly high profile, Williams went on to say that Rashid 'does not play a public rule in Dubai affairs'.

Then came a bombshell. 'It is alleged that Rashid killed an assistant in the Ruler's office,' continues Williams, 'thereby forfeiting his opportunity to be heir.'

Although the identity of the aide supposedly murdered by Rashid has never been revealed, commentators at the time suggested that the attack could have taken place during an episode of 'roid rage' – a reference to the steroids the prince was believed to have taken.

Further colorful allegations emerged in another cable, this time written in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh, which spoke of an underground royal party scene in which sex parties and drugs were common currency.

Written by Consul General Martin Quinn, the dispatch claimed that the underground scene was 'thriving and throbbing' but was only available to the very wealthy.

He also noted that 'cocaine and hashish use is common in these social circles', which, he added, were largely composed of aristocratic and princely members.

Among the fabulously wealthy guests to attend the parties, it has been alleged, were the Emirati princes - including Rashid.

Although the notoriously secretive Zabeel Palace has never commented on Rashid's alleged use of drugs, another illuminating episode came three years later in 2011 – shortly after the prince gave up his presidency of the UAE Olympic Committee due to his 'heavy workload'.

A British aide who had been working for the Al Maktoums at the sprawling Longross Palace in Surrey, England, brought an unfair dismissal case against the family in London and claimed he was sacked after refusing to spy on a dignitary staying there.

Mr Ali, who claimed he 'regularly came into contact with the family', alleged that Rashid, far from having a heavy workload, was instead in the throes of drug addiction.

What's more, Mr Ali continued, the problem had become so acute that prince had been made to attend a rehab clinic by his furious family in 2009.

Other bizarre claims emerged, including accusations that staff working for the Al Maktoum family operated in a 'climate of fear'.

Another aide, Olatunji Faleye, giving evidence on behalf of Mr Ali, claimed racial abuse from 'my bosses' was commonplace and said he had repeatedly been called 'a black slave'.

He also claimed that colleagues had dismissed his Christian beliefs as 'inferior, rubbish and no good' and had told him to convert to Islam.

Most damaging for the family, if not Rashid himself, was the accusation that Mr Ali had been 'bullied, harassed and belittled' before being forced out of his £60,000-a-year ($93,000) job.

Although the tribunal ended in victory for the Al Maktoum family and Sheikh Mohammed himself was never accused of any wrongdoing, the family has never publicly denied the allegations put forward about Rashid.

Since then, little has been heard from or about the 33-year-old, although his brother Hamdan has made frequent public appearances alongside his father.

Until the announcement of his death on Friday, Rashid had been all but hidden away behind the scenes at the Zabeel Palace.

Now he is making headlines once more, with his memorial service and burial at the Umm Hurair Cemetery in Dubai covered faithfully by the local press.

A three day official mourning period has been declared, while Hamdan, who with Maktoum, 31, carried Rashid's body during his funeral on Saturday, has spoken movingly of 'losing my best friend.

For all that, it seems likely that Sheikh Rashid will become little more than a footnote in the United Arab Emirates' royal history.

But whatever the truth of his alleged penchant for drugs, there is no denying that the death of a young man in his prime is anything but a tragedy.

By Ruth Styles

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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