Walid Juffali, a Saudi oil tycoon, has argued in court that his diplomatic immunity should protect him from being involved in divorce proceedings in England. What’s more, he asserts that the £70,000 a month he is already providing to his ex-wife is sufficiently generous.
Mr Juffali and Christina Estrada, an American-born former supermodel, married in 2001 and have a 13-year-old daughter together. Estrada was Juffali’s second wife. He divorced his first wife in one of the UK’s most expensive divorces, paying her £40 million after he fell in love with Estrada.
However, Estrada and Juffali’s marriage fell apart in 2012 when he married a third wife, Loujain Adada, a 25-year-old Lebanese woman, under Islamic law, which allows him to have up to four wives. Juffali and Adada now have a young daughter together and their lavish lifestyle is well-documented by Adada on Instagram. Estrada allegedly found out about this new wife after reading about their lavish wedding in the press, believing at the time that she was still the only wife of her billionaire husband.
When Estrada began divorce proceedings in the UK, Juffali travelled to the Caribbean, where he was quickly appointed a permanent representative of the United Nations International Maritime Organisation by Saint Lucia in 2014. Juffali is now using this appointment to claim diplomatic immunity, but Estrada’s lawyers are arguing that, because he is a permanent resident, and has strong ties to the UK, including his UK-born daughter and multiple properties, he should not be permitted to claim immunity.
Estrada is also calling into question the validity of her ex-husband’s diplomatic post, claiming he has not attended a single IMO meeting since being appointed. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, at the request of Ms Estrada, has asked Saint Lucia to waive Juffali’s immunity, but as of last Friday Saint Lucia refused.
After securing immunity Juffali divorced Estrada in the traditional Muslim way, saying ‘I divorce you’, three times, and potentially leaving her without any legally-binding settlement beyond the £70,000 per month he has verbally agreed to, as well as covering expenses for their daughter.
Estrada claims she is owed much more of his £4 billion fortune, including a share of his three UK properties: a converted church in Knightsbridge worth £60 million, and large estates in Surrey and Devon.
The case brings into question how far diplomatic immunity should extend, especially in personal and financial matters. While usually confined to menial matters, such as parking tickets and driving infringements, and originally intended to protect diplomats in unsafe regions, the idea that immunity, especially a questionably-obtained immunity, could be used to avoid engaging in divorce and financial remedy proceedings seems suspect.
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