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Mon 16 Nov 2015 01:58 PM

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Saudi tycoon denies seeking diplomatic immunity to avoid $6bn divorce trial

Sheikh Walid Juffali was appointed as St Lucia’s permanent representative to the UN’s International Maritime Organisation last year

Saudi tycoon denies seeking diplomatic immunity to avoid $6bn divorce trial
Photo for illustrative purposes only

A Saudi oil tycoon has denied he sought out an appointment last year that granted him diplomatic immunity to avoid a £4 billion ($6 billion) divorce trial, according to UK media.

Sheikh Walid Juffali, 60, is a son of the late Ahmed Abdullah Al Juffali who set up EA Juffali & Brothers in Makkah in 1946.

Juffali reportedly initiated a traditional Muslim talaq divorce from his supermodel wife Christina Estrada last year, by saying “I divorce you” three times while in Saudi Arabia.

Estrada, an American-born Pirelli calendar girl and long-time friend of the UK’s Prince Andrew, subsequently launched proceedings in the UK High Court to acquire a share of Juffali’s £4 billion fortune.

But Juffali has so far resisted a costly divorce battle, and the UK’s Mail on Sunday reported that this is because the tycoon was last year appointed as the Caribbean island of St Lucia’s permanent representative to the United Nation’s London-based International Maritime Organisation (IMO) – a position that affords him diplomatic immunity.

This is despite Juffali spending hardly any time on the Caribbean island and having no obvious experience in maritime affairs, the newspaper added.

It reported that as soon as the IMO appointment was in place and Jaffali’s name was added to London’s Diplomatic List, he divorced Estrada.

It is suspected he sought out the appointment for the sole purpose of avoiding a court battle with his ex-wife in the UK, the Mail on Sunday reported, citing friends of Estrada.

The newspaper said Jaffali is understood to have denied any wrongdoing – although it did not carry any direct statement from him.

Jaffali reportedly claims his appointment was made in line with standard diplomatic procedure but sources say the timing was suspicious.

An unnamed source was quoted as saying: “Christina was shocked when she learned Walid had immunity from the courts. He had no obvious connection with St Lucia, so to have gained this position when he did was extraordinary.”

Allen Chastanet, leader of St Lucia’s opposition United Workers’ Party, accused the UK government of “sullying the name of St Lucia” by appointing Juffali. “This type of behaviour makes a laughing stock of St Lucia,” he was quoted as saying.

Fifty-three-year-old Estrada reportedly discovered in 2012 that Juffali had married again under Islamic law, when a Lebanese TV station reported his wedding to former MTV presenter Loujain Adada in Venice.

She launched divorce proceedings in 2013, the Mail on Sunday reported, but these were shelved as Juffali promised to divorce her shortly afterwards. He reportedly made his first trip to St Lucia four months later following a meeting with St Lucia’s then High Commissioner to London, Ernest Hillaire.