For­eign Of­fice wades into Bri­tain’s big­gest di­vorce case af­ter Saudi ty­coon dodges UK set­tle­ment by gain­ing diplo­matic im­mu­nity from a Caribbean tax haven

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - BY SI­MON CA­BLE FOR THE MAIL ON SUN­DAY

It was ei­ther a move of ex­tra­or­di­nary cun­ning, or for­tu­itous in the ex­treme. Within months of re­ceiv­ing a de­mand from his ex-wife for a share of his £4bil­lion for­tune, Saudi ty­coon Sheik Walid Juf­fali joined the ob­scure In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Or­gan­i­sa­tion as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Caribbean is­land of St Lucia – gain­ing diplo­matic im­mu­nity from any le­gal ac­tion in Bri­tain.

It meant, of course, that his for­tune was safe from his wife of 14 years, for­mer cal­en­dar model Christina Estrada.

But now, the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment has taken the highly un­usual step of in­ter­ven­ing on her be­half.

A se­nior Bri­tish of­fi­cial has writ­ten to the St Lu­cian gov­ern­ment de­mand­ing that the im­mu­nity be waived so Lon­don­based Ms Estrada can seek a di­vorce set­tle­ment.

The For­eign Of­fice Head of Pro­to­col Ju­lian Evans has given St Lucia’s act­ing High Com­mis­sioner in Lon­don un­til Jan­uary 8 to re­spond.

It will be wel­come news to Ms Estrada, 53, a long-time friend of Prince An­drew, and to Mr Juf­fali’s crit­ics who ac­cuse him of making ‘a mock­ery’ of Bri­tish jus­tice.

He had no known mar­itime ex­pe­ri­ence and few, if any, con­nec­tions with St Lucia when his ap­point­ment to the IMO – a United Na­tions body that over­sees world mar­itime safety – was made in April 2014. So far, he has at­tended no meet­ings.

If pro­ceed­ings were to reach court, it would be one of the most high-pro­file di­vorce cases ever seen in the UK. The couple, who have a 13-yearold daugh­ter, own as­sets that in­clude a £60mil­lion con­verted church in Knights­bridge and es­tates in Sur­rey and Dart­mouth.

A friend of Ms Estrada and Mr Juf­fali said last night: “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.”

Mr Juf­fali, 60, is one of the Mid­dle East’s most flam­boy­ant char­ac­ters. In 2005, he paid £220,000 at a Christie’s char­ity auc­tion for a nude pho­to­graph of Ta­mara Mel­lon, the co­founder of Jimmy Choo, and £270,000 for a nude pho­to­graph of Kate Moss.

He paid out £40mil­lion to his first wife af­ter their 24-year mar­riage ended in 2000, when he took up with Ms Estrada. The lat­est sep­a­ra­tion came af­ter Ms Estrada dis­cov­ered her hus­band had se­cretly mar­ried again un­der Is­lamic law – which per­mits him to have up to four wives – around the time of her 50th birth­day party in 2012.

Ms Estrada con­fronted him af­ter a TV re­port was broad­cast in Le­banon an­nounc­ing Mr Juf­fali’s wed­ding to Beirut beauty Lou­jain Adada, then 24, a for­mer MTV pre­sen­ter. Ms Adada posted a pic­ture on her so­cial me­dia ac­counts show­ing her pos­ing in the front seat of a bright pink Bent­ley – a gift from Mr Juf­fali.

Within months of di­vorce pro­ceed­ings start­ing in Lon­don in 2014, Mr Juf­fali was ap­pointed to the IMO. Once diplo­matic im­mu­nity had been se­cured, Mr Juf­fali di­vorced Ms Estrada in the tra­di­tional Mus­lim way by say­ing ‘I di­vorce you’ three times.

The IMO ap­point­ment was never pub­licly an­nounced by the St Lucia gov­ern­ment and there is no record of Mr Juf­fali at­tend­ing any meet­ings of the IMO in the 20 months since his ap­point­ment, in­clud­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s bi­en­nial two-week sum­mit meet­ing in Lon­don this month.

Mr Juf­fali, chair­man of one of Saudi Ara­bia’s big­gest con­glom­er­ates, de­nies any wrong-do­ing, say­ing the ap­point­ment was made in ac­cor­dance with stan­dard diplo­matic pro­ce­dures.

More than 20,000 peo­ple are en­ti­tled to diplo­matic im­mu­nity in the UK. Ear­lier this year it was re­vealed that Scot­land Yard’s diplo­matic pro­tec­tion group had flagged up 14 ‘se­ri­ous and sig­nif­i­cant’ of­fences in 2014 by peo­ple with such priv­i­leges.

The Gov­ern­ment seek to have im­mu­nity waived in se­ri­ous crim­i­nal cases where a sen­tence of more than 12 months would ap­ply if a con­vic­tion was se­cured.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Mr Juf­fali and the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice de­clined to com­ment.

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