Saint Lucia’s former UN ambassador Earl Huntley has weighed in on the so-called Juffali affair, describing it in his blog The Orange Banner as “much ado about a diplomatic nothing.” In his online blog he writes: “St. Lucians were surprised by a report in a London tabloid that one of their island’s diplomats, its representative to the International Maritime Organization in London, a Saudi billionaire named Walid Juffali, was using his diplomatic immunity to shield himself from a lawsuit by an ex-wife.”
He quoted The Telegraph as saying the legal immunity that Dr. Juffali enjoys as a Saint Lucian diplomat prevents his ex-wife Christina Estrada from filing legal proceedings against him in London, and that the government of Saint Lucia had declined to waive his diplomatic immunity.
“Not surprisingly,” Huntley wrote, “the story generated media and political waves because Saint Lucians generally were unaware that Juffali was a diplomatic representative for their country. In the current heat of impending elections every act by government . . . is a cause for controversy.”
He cited the government’s 11 November reaction: “The lawyers for the former wife of Dr. Juffali have requested the government of Saint Lucia to lift the diplomatic immunity of Dr. Juffali to finally compel Dr. Juffali to testify in the civil suit. The government of St. Lucia has expressed the view to the lawyers of the former wife that this is a civil matter in which it does not desire to get involved. In the view of the government, this is a private matter and to waive Dr. Juffali’s immunity for the purposes of resolving property disputes arising out of divorce proceedings will create a precedent that could compromise current and future diplomatic personnel here and elsewhere.”
According to Earl Huntley, it is not known whether Christina Estrada’s lawyers attempted to file proceedings against Dr. Juffali and were told by Dr. Juffali’s lawyers that they could not, or if they were told by government authorities in London that Juffali’s diplomatic immunity was a barrier to their objectives.
“In the latter case,” he went on, “that would have been a very strange reply from the British who surely are well versed in diplomacy and should have responded differently; for, if her [Estrada’s] lawyers had not approached the courts or the Foreign Office on the issue, then they, The Telegraph, commentators here and the Saint Lucia government have all displayed an ignorance of the practice of the diplomatic privileges and immunities.”
The former ambassador was referring to the 1961 Vienna Convention that at Article 31 states diplomatic immunity does not extend to all civil and administrative matters. According to the convention, a diplomat and members of his family forming part of his household (provided they are not nationals or permanent residents of the host state) are immune from civil and administrative jurisdiction in the host state—except in the case of: “a real action relating to private immovable property situated in the host state, unless he holds it on behalf of the state he serves for the purpose of the mission.”
“In my view, and according to this convention,’ Huntley writes finally, “Dr. Juffali does not possess diplomatic immunity when it comes to action by Christina Estrada to lay claim to his private immovable property in the United Kingdom.”
Saint Lucia cannot waive immunity for him in this case because there is no immunity to be waived. “In my humble opinion, this is a case of much ado about a diplomatic nothing.”
Remarkably, Huntley did not comment on the fact that the government continues to maintain that if it should waive the immunity provided Juffali by his diplomatic position on behalf of Saint Lucia, it would “compromise current and future diplomatic personnel here and elsewhere.”
Two weeks ago the governing party issued a press release that stated Dr. Juffali was subjected to the strictest scrutiny by reputable agencies including the British government before he was granted diplomatic status in England.”