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Mon 28 Dec 2015 11:21 AM

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UK intervenes in Saudi tycoon’s $6bn divorce battle

Foreign Office demands Sheikh Walid Juffali ‘be stripped of diplomatic immunity’

UK intervenes in Saudi tycoon’s $6bn divorce battle

The British government has intervened in a $6 billion divorce battle between a Saudi oil tycoon and his estranged supermodel wife, according to reports from the UK.

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 Muslim talaq divorce from Pirelli calendar girl Christina Estrada last year, by saying “I divorce you” three times while in Saudi Arabia.

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

But, soon afterwards, Juffali was appointed by the International Maritime Organisation as representative of the Caribbean island of St Lucia – a role that grants him diplomatic immunity from legal action in the UK.

However, a senior British official has now demanded that his immunity be waived, the Daily Mail reported on Sunday.

In a highly unusual step to intervene in a private dispute, Julian Evans, head of protocol at the Foreign Office, has reportedly written to St Lucia’s acting High Commissioner in London and given him until January 8 to respond.

The move will be welcomed by Estrada, who would be able to seek a divorce settlement in the UK courts if Juffali’s diplomatic immunity is removed.

Juffali has spent little time on the Caribbean island and has no obvious links with maritime affairs, according to the newspaper. It is suspected he sought out the appointment for the sole purpose of avoiding a court battle with his ex-wife.

The newspaper said last month that Jaffali denied any wrongdoing - although he was not quoted in either that story or the most recent report.

The UK government can apply to have immunity waived in criminal cases where a sentence of more than 12 months would apply if a conviction was secured.

Representatives for Juffali and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office declined to comment, the Daily Mail said, adding that if proceedings were to reach court it would be one of the most high-profile divorce cases ever seen in the UK.

A source described as a friend of Estrada and Juffali was quoted as saying: “Walid and Christina seemed to have the perfect marriage. They were great fun and generous, often opening up their home and throwing parties.

“Christina believed they could come to an amicable arrangement and that Walid would want to provide a sensible settlement.

“It’s a shame it has come to this. Christina is determined to protect their 13-year-old daughter from further drama.”