Sheik Walid Juffali, who died 20th July of cancer at the age of 61, was chairman of a company that was founded by his father Sheikh Ahmed. The Juffalis’ ancestry goes back to the 15th century rulers of much of what is now Iraq and eastern Saudi Arabia. In the late 19th century the family began providing camels to pilgrims travelling to Mecca; much later, the Juffalis won the contract to build its first electricity plant at Taif, southeast of the Holy City. Later, they concentrated on infrastructure projects, ferrying water by lorry from their farm to supply these enterprises. By the 1950s they had substantial cement, communications, agriculture and construction businesses. When oil began to boom, they brought in technology, expertise and goods to eager consumers; they became the exclusive agent for Mercedes and also built a factory to make Daimler-Benz trucks. Similar deals were struck with companies such as IBM, Massey-Ferguson, Siemens, Bosch, Michelin and Electrolux. By the 1970s, the firm was growing at 50% each year and was said to be the largest privately owned business in Saudi Arabia, employing more than 50,000 people.
Walid was the eldest of Ahmed’s four children. He probably attended school in the Lebanon and then Switzerland. He studied business at the University of San Diego, graduating in 1977, and earned a doctorate in Neuroscience at Imperial College, London. After working for several decades for the family firm, he became its chairman following his father’s death in 1994. He was also chairman of Saudi American Bank and, in 2005, was lined up, somewhat incongruously, to front the kingdom’s version of The Apprentice, the television reality show made famous by Donald Trump.
Walid married three times. His first marriage, which lasted over 20 years, was to a Saudi woman, Basma al-Sulaiman in 1980; she bore him three children. They lived in a marble palace in Jeddah; among their guests were Margaret Thatcher, John Major and President George W Bush. When the couple divorced, Walid gave his ex-wife a 40 million dollar settlement..
In 2000, he met Christina Estrada; they were married in Dubai in 2001, had a daughter and lived in their various houses in Britain. In 2012, however, Christina learned that she been replaced by a younger model in Walid’s affections, Loujain Adada, a television presenter, who at 25 was 35 years his junior. Walid had divorced Christina in Saudi Arabia under Islamic law without her knowledge, married his third wife in Venice in a lavish ceremony said to have cost £10 million, and had two children while he and Christina were still married. Not long after, Walid learned that he had cancer.
Following their divorce in 2014, Christina made a claim for relief from Walid for £196 million that included provision for a £55 million London house, £1 million a year for clothes, including £109,000 for couture dresses, £40,000 for fur coats, and £21,000 for shoes. She also budgeted £58,000 for two handbags every year, £23,000 for six more casual bags, and £35,000 on 10 clutches. She claimed travel costs of £2.1 million including £600,000 for private jet hire. For her cell-phone bill, she asked for £26,000 a year, and £495,000 for five cars. “I have lived this life,” she testified. This is what I am accustomed to. It is difficult to convey the extraordinary level of luxury and opulence we were fortunate enough to enjoy.” She was finally awarded a £75 million, or about $100 million, settlement—a £53 million cash payment and £20 million of her own assets. It was, the BBC said, the largest award ever made by an English court. Walid claimed diplomatic immunity as St Lucia’s representative to the International Maritime Organization. The Court of Appeal judged that even if he did have immunity it did not affect the divorce proceedings and ordered him to pay Christina by July 29 of this year.
Now, even though the prime minister of the time insisted that the matter of Walid’s diplomatic appointment was entirely aboveboard, and who would doubt his word, there is the small matter of a hospital or research facility for diabetics that Walid had promised to build because he, or someone near and dear to him, had fallen in love with our island; the offer was even debated and approved in Kenny’s House of Assembly, if memory serves me right. One has to believe that Labour MP Dr. Ernest Hilaire, who seems to have played a central role in the whole affair, sincerely trusted that his Saudi billionaire friend, who was already dying when the promise was made, was indeed acting philanthropically and would see to it that his word was kept even after his death. Well, it seems unlikely the facility will ever be built; our new government shows no interest and the Saudis have gone quiet. Perhaps the accusations of the abuse of diplomatic immunity were true after all. Whatever the case may be, there’s a vacant position as our representative to the International Maritime Organization crying out to be filled. No knowledge of maritime affairs is required.