WHO IS WALID JUF­FALI?

Saudis bear­ing Looshan Pass­ports:

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE -

Back in 1998 less than five Saint Lu­cians had heard of Gil­bert Chagoury, let alone his con­nec­tions with our na­tion’s main movers and shak­ers. Dur­ing an in­ter­view I had with Sir John Comp­ton he re­called their only meet­ing, a year or so be­fore the prime min­is­ter re­tired in the best in­ter­ests of Vaughan Lewis.

“I knew ab­so­lutely noth­ing about the gen­tle­man un­til Arch­bishop Kelvin Felix in­tro­duced us in 1995,” the en­light­ened 2003 Comp­ton re­gret­fully con­fessed. It emerged dur­ing the re­mem­bered in­ter­view that he knew even less about the church leader’s history with the Le­banese bil­lion­aire. By Comp­ton’s mourn­ful ac­count the in­flu­en­tial arch­bishop bro­kered the deal that had re­sulted in the prece­den­tial ap­point­ment of Saint Lucia’s first Arab am­bas­sador.

Chagoury had sug­ared the ar­range­ment with an un­so­licited of­fer to pay out of his own pocket what­ever the price of per­suad­ing UNESCO to do for Saint Lucia par­tic­u­larly what in 1948 it had been es­tab­lished to do for world peace and se­cu­rity by pro­mot­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion among na­tions through ed­u­ca­tion, science and cul­ture, re­spect for jus­tice, for the rule of law, and for hu­man rights.

Comp­ton told me he had reluc­tantly agreed to grant Chagoury prayer, but only on con­di­tion the Le­banese also fi­nanced the ap­point­ment of a na­tive Saint Lu­cian as his as­sis­tant in Geneva.

The man the prime min­is­ter hand­picked for the plum po­si­tion was Petrus Comp­ton, a rel­a­tive then at­tached to his gov­ern­ment’s le­gal depart­ment. Alas, by the time Am­bas­sador Chagoury was ready to re­ceive his Saint Lu­cian shadow, the vast ma­jor­ity of his fel­low cit­i­zens had evicted Vaughan Lewis from the prime min­is­ter’s chair—Petrus Comp­ton had lost his pre­sumed UWP heart to the new SLP ad­min­is­tra­tion while win­ning the po­si­tion of at­tor­ney gen­eral. Such wa­ter-into-wine mirac­u­lous con­ver­sions are, in po­lit­i­cal Saint Lucia, ev­ery-day oc­cur­rences.

Among the first for­eign dig­ni­taries to ar­rive in Saint Lucia fol­low­ing the 1997 gen­eral elec­tions was Am­bas­sador Gil­bert Chagoury. Con­ceiv­ably, he wished per­son­ally to con­grat­u­late the Kenny An­thony gov­ern­ment. But chances are he also har­bored a self­ish mo­tive or two. (It is hardly a se­cret that newly elected Caribbean gov­ern­ments have zero tol­er­ance for di­plo­mats not cut out to be floor mats.) All the same the well-heeled Le­banese failed to im­press the newly-minted for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter Ge­orge Od­lum, ever wary of for­eign­ers bear­ing gifts for his prime min­is­ter. Days be­fore Chagoury’s sched­uled ar­rival here, Od­lum had set out to un­cover his history. What he learned con­firmed his sus­pi­cion: the bil­lion­aire’s main in­ter­est was per­sonal, less to do with his pro­fessed love for Saint Lucia than with keep­ing his diplo­matic golden key, with­out which sev­eral im­por­tant doors would once again be closed to him, re­gard­less of his im­mense wealth!

Whether the fruits of Od­lum’s la­bor proved too bit­ter for some of his Cab­i­net col­leagues must re­main con­jec­tural. Per­haps the late for­eign min­is­ter had been a tad too late with his find­ings. By the time he had the op­por­tu­nity to en­gage his prime min­is­ter on the sub­ject of Chagoury’s as­so­ci­a­tion with var­i­ous sus­pect gov­ern­ments, in­clud­ing Nige­ria’s Abacha regime, not only had the Kenny An­thony ad­min­is­tra­tion con­firmed him in his po­si­tion—and ap­pointed him this na­tion’s am­bas­sador to the Holy See (re­port­edly with­out con­sult­ing with the lo­cal Catholic church au­thor­i­ties)— but the prime min­is­ter and his deputy had them­selves ac­cepted Chagoury’s gen­er­ous in­vi­ta­tion to party with his daugh­ter at her wed­ding in Monaco.

Fast for­ward to “bet­ter days.” The Le­banese con­tin­ues to wear his Saint Lu­cian face at masked balls also at­tended by the world’s rich­est and most pow­er­ful. Ear­lier this year he was con­tro­ver­sially awarded our na­tion’s most pres­ti­gious award: The Saint Lucia Cross. At the spe­cial Gov­ern­ment House oc­ca­sion (the press was un­in­vited) the prime min­is­ter, on be­half of the na­tion, pro­fusely thanked Chagoury for his ar­cane ser­vices to Saint Lucia “at no cost to the gov­ern­ment.”

And now it seems Gil­bert Chagoury was only the tip of the diplo­matic vice­berg. The lat­est Arab to place Saint Lucia in the in­ter­na­tional head­lines is Walid Ahmed Juf­fali of Saudi Ara­bia. A month or so ear­lier it was his daugh­ter Hala Juf­fali who had at­tracted spe­cial me­dia in­ter­est in lo­cal pol­i­tics: in the 17 Oc­to­ber is­sue of this news­pa­per Hala Juf­fali was pic­tured with our al­ways gre­gar­i­ous gov­er­nor gen­eral Dame Pear­lette Louisy, bo­som to bo­som and beam­ing. A Gov­ern­ment In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice cap­tion de­scribed Ms Juf­fali as Saint Lucia’s re­cently ac­quired hon­orary con­sul. There had been no prior an­nounce­ment of her visit. Her only me­dia con­tact while here was the talk-ra­dio host and se­nate pres­i­dent Claudius Fran­cis. He alone knows whether his few ques­tions to his spe­cial guest were spon­ta­neous.

Re­port­edly, while on “a tour of Saint Lucia” she had found time to meet with “gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, ma­jor na­tional in­sti­tu­tions and gov­ern­ment agen­cies to fa­mil­iar­ize her­self with busi­ness and life in Saint Lucia, in prepa­ra­tion for her re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the gov­ern­ment of Saint Lucia in Saudi Ara­bia.”

Ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s pub­lic re­la­tions depart­ment, “a ma­jor train­ing work­shop with travel agents in Saudi Ara­bia [would] be or­ga­nized as the first ac­tiv­ity of Ms Juf­fali’s of­fice.” The release did not iden­tify the work­shop or­ga­nizer; nei­ther the highly priv­i­leged busi­ness peo­ple Juf­fali had en­coun­tered dur­ing her tour of the is­land. As for the pre­cise ad­dress of Saint Lucia’s hon­orary rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Saudi Ara­bia, that too re­mains clas­si­fied. The gov­ern­ment release ended with a re­minder that “the king­dom of Saudi Ara­bia is one of the largest economies in the Mid­dle East and the largest pro­ducer and ex­porter of oil in the world.” Oh, and that the Arab lady would be ser­vic­ing Saint Lu­cians for free.

Ac­cord­ing to the UK’s In­de­pen­dent news­pa­per (24 Oc­to­ber 2015) quot­ing IMF and Al-Jazeera sources: “Saudi Ara­bia could be bank­rupt in five years due, in large part, to the fall in oil prices.”

Ad­di­tion­ally: “The king­dom will suf­fer a neg­a­tive 21.6 per­cent gen­eral gov­ern­ment over­all fis­cal bal­ance in 2015 and a 19.4 per­cent neg­a­tive bal­ance in 2016, a mas­sive in­crease from -3.4 per­cent in 2014 . . . The Saudi Ara­bian Mon­e­tary Agency has with­drawn $70 bil­lion in funds man­aged by over­seas in­sti­tu­tions, and has lost al­most $73 bil­lion since oil prices slumped. Saudi Ara­bia gen­er­ates 90 per­cent of its in­come from oil . . .”

The Saint Lucia gov­ern­ment ne­glected to men­tion in its ear­lier cited press release that Saudi Ara­bia is as fa­mous for its oil as its hav­ing brought into the world Osama bin Laden, whose fel­low ter­ror­ists had on 11 Septem­ber 2001 laid waste New York’s

Trade Cen­ter and at­tacked the Pen­tagon build­ing, in the process claim­ing some 500 lives.

Our gov­ern­ment also for­got to an­nounce—un­til Wed­nes­day this week—one other re­lated tid­bit: the multi-bil­lion­aire Walid Ahmed Juf­fali had been serv­ing unan­nounced and un­salaried as Saint Lucia’s per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the board of the In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Or­ga­ni­za­tion for over a year. The dec­la­ra­tion came only af­ter the UK’s Tele­graph news­pa­per had pub­lished on­line a story cen­tered on Mr. Juf­fali’s re­fusal to pay a fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment to one of his ex-wives while fork­ing out close to US$800,000 for two nudes of fa­mous fe­male mod­els.

De­scrib­ing him as one of Saudi Ara­bia’s “most prom­i­nent bil­lion­aires,” the pa­per re­vealed that Juf­fali had “gained le­gal im­mu­nity in Bri­tain ever since his ap­point­ment as a Caribbean diplo­mat rep­re­sent­ing the is­land na­tion of Saint Lucia.” (News me­dia else­where had ear­lier re­ferred with undis­guised cyn­i­cism to phi­lan­thropist Gil­bert Chagoury’s le­gal im­mu­nity, thanks to “the small is­land na­tion of Saint Lucia!”)

Re­mark­ably, al­though Juf­fali has re­ceived, ac­cord­ing to the Saint Lucia gov­ern­ment, a num­ber of pres­ti­gious awards in­clud­ing Knight of the Or­der of Dan­nebrog; Knight of the Cedars; Knight of St. Sylvester (the Vat­i­can), and “other diplo­matic po­si­tions,” it would ap­pear only his Saint Lu­cian award af­fords him le­gal im­mu­nity. Or per­haps he keeps to him­self his “other diplo­matic po­si­tions” to spare the con­fer­rers un­wanted public­ity.

The Saint Lucia gov­ern­ment, mean­while, had made cer­tain Saint Lu­cians re­al­ize “the Knight of St. Sylvester be­ing given to a Mus­lim by the Catholic Church speaks vol­umes of his [Juf­fali’s] phil­an­thropic con­tri­bu­tions to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.” On the other hand some might say it is its his­toric ac­cep­tance of the un­ac­cept­able that speaks loud­est about the Vat­i­can!

On Wed­nes­day the gov­ern­ment gave Saint Lu­cians its as­sur­ance that all “nec­es­sary” due dili­gence had been done prior to the ap­point­ment of Walid Juf­fali as Saint Lucia’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Or­ga­ni­za­tion. What does “nec­es­sary” mean in this in­stance? Who un­der­took such due dili­gence? In­vest Saint Lucia?

Did the gov­ern­ment know one of Juf­fali’s ex-wives was de­mand­ing a larger fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment in the UK than the rel­a­tive pit­tance al­lowed her in no­to­ri­ously misog­y­nis­tic Saudi Ara­bia? I have been re­li­ably in­formed that it was Christina Estrada who first is­sued di­vorce pro­ceed­ings against Juf­fali in a Lon­don court in Au­gust 2013, just four months be­fore his first pri­vate visit to Saint Lucia.

Re­port­edly, he had per­suaded her to re­tract the pro­ceed­ings. Juf­falli then trav­eled a sec­ond time to Saint Lucia in April 2014, at which time he was ap­pointed hush­hush to his cur­rent diplo­matic po­si­tion. Five months later, in Septem­ber 2014, Juf­fali served his own di­vorce pro­ceed­ings— in Saudi Ara­bia.

His sep­a­ra­tion from Christina Estrada was made fi­nal three months later, in De­cem­ber 2014. Sev­eral days later Christina made her ap­pli­ca­tion to the UK courts for a set­tle­ment. Only then did she learn from Walid Juf­fali’s lawyers that he now had diplo­matic im­mu­nity. How much of that did our gov­ern­ment’s due dili­gence un­cover?

Also on Wed­nes­day Se­nate Pres­i­dent Claudius Fran­cis, in his role as talkra­dio host, re­ferred to Christina Estrada’s mar­i­tal predica­ment. I un­der­stood him to say he agreed (sur­prise, sur­prise) with the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion not to in­ter­fere. But then, isn’t it the gov­ern­ment’s well-timed diplo­matic ap­point­ment that ren­ders Juf­fali un­touch­able by his ex-wife’s lawyers?

For the record: Diplo­matic im­mu­nity en­sures di­plo­mats are given safe pas­sage and are con­sid­ered not sus­cep­ti­ble to law­suit or pros­e­cu­tion un­der the host coun­try’s laws, al­though they can still be expelled. Diplo­matic im­mu­nity as an institution de­vel­oped to al­low for the main­te­nance of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions in­clud­ing dur­ing pe­ri­ods of dif­fi­cul­ties and armed con­flict.” (Could it be our gov­ern­ment equates mar­i­tal squab­bles as “armed con­flict?” This is Saint Lucia, af­ter all!)

There ap­pears in Juf­fali’s history noth­ing that ob­vi­ously qual­i­fies him to rep­re­sent Saint Lucia on the board of the In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Of­fi­cials here, in­clud­ing the gov­ern­ment’s mar­itime con­sul­tant, claim to know noth­ing about Juf­fali, save what ap­peared this week in a gov­ern­ment press release. None that I spoke with had ever met the gen­tle­man—or, for that mat­ter, his daugh­ter our is­land’s hon­orary con­sul.

Still the toxic fall-out rains, all thanks to the in­ter­net— world­wide. One re­port is headed: “Caribbean State Re­fused to Waive UK Im­mu­nity for Saudi Diplo­mat Fac­ing Ex-Wife’s Property Claim!” This par­tic­u­lar fea­ture ends with the some­what shock­ing dis­clo­sure: “Friendly gov­ern­ments usu­ally waive the im­mu­nity of di­plo­mats sub­ject to le­gal pro­ceed­ings in Bri­tain. Saint Lucia is a com­mon­wealth coun­try which gained in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain in 1979.”

The re­port quotes Mark Stephens, a for­mer pres­i­dent of the Com­mon­wealth Lawyers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, in re­la­tion to the Juf­fali mat­ter: “If this was a gen­uine ap­point­ment, there is the tra­di­tion of the gov­ern­ment con­cerned waiv­ing that im­mu­nity so the per­son can be sub­ject to jus­tice. What I find as­ton­ish­ing is that it hasn’t hap­pened in this case im­me­di­ately. That only raises ques­tions over what the gov­ern­ment of Saint Lucia is do­ing in ef­fec­tively col­lud­ing in avoid­ing the rule of law.”

Yes, here we go again. Ac­cord­ing to IMO sources, there have been twenty-seven meet­ings of the or­ga­ni­za­tion since Juf­fali’s ap­point­ment. Nei­ther he nor his deputy Tafawa Wil­liams has at­tended even one!

Saint Lucia’s lat­est Arab diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Walid Ahmed Juf­fali with Christina Estrada,

a for­mer model and one of his ex-wives.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saint Lucia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.