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 London-based 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-year-old 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 co-founder 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.