Posted by Patrick Hart, Partner
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St Lucia refuses to waive immunity in Saudi tycoon’s £4bn divorce battle
A flamboyant Saudi billionaire has succeeded in his latest attempt to use diplomatic immunity to avoid a multimillion-pound divorce claim from his supermodel ex-wife after the Foreign and Commonwealth Office failed to have it waived.
Walid Juffali, 60, who has been appointed to represent St Lucia, is facing a claim from Christina Estrada, 53, a former Pirelli calendar model, for a share of his £4 billion fortune.
The UK Government intervened in the case stating that Ms Estrada could seek a financial claim following the breakdown of their 13-year marriage.
The letter, penned by the FCO Director of Protocol, was sent to St Lucia’s acting High Commissioner in London on the December 23 and requested a response by January 8.
However, the official failed to reply by the deadline and it has since emerged the St Lucian Government has taken the unusual step of choosing not to comply with the FCO’s demands, despite Mr Juffali having no ties with the country that’s shielding him.
Mr Juffali, who chairs a Jeddah-based conglomerate, is a subject of legal proceedings due to open in the High Court in London on Monday.
He was appointed to an ambassadorial role in St Lucia, a small island in the heart of the Caribbean. This position, which was never publicly announced by the St Lucia Labour Party, grants the Saudi national immunity. This is despite the fact Mr Juffali has so far attended no meetings in the 21 months since his appointment.
A mutual friend of Mr Juffali and Ms Estrada said yesterday: “It has shocked many of us who know them both well that Walid has gone to such vast lengths to avoid looking after the mother of his child and wife of 13 years.
“Christina is acutely aware that she is more fortunate than many women who find themselves in a similar position, and feels it’s important that she not only stands up for herself but for the rights of other deserted wives.”
St Lucia is a Commonwealth country which gained independence from Britain in 1979. By convention, friendly states usually waive the immunity of diplomats facing legal action and opposition politicians in St Lucia have called upon their Government to act and remove Mr Juffali from his post.
Tory MP Andrew Rosindell said the row risked making “a mockery of diplomatic privileges”.
The saga follows a string of incidents in which wealthy diplomats have claimed immunity from the UK courts.
Just last week the former Prime Minister of Qatar claimed he cannot be sued in London’s High Court following allegations he used his influence to expropriate land from a British.
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