Saudi Billionaire Avoids Divorce Settlement by Receiving Diplomatic Immunity in St. Lucia

After being granted diplomatic immunity in St. Lucia, Saudi billionaire Sheikh Walid Juffali is successfully avoiding having to share any of his $6 billion fortune with his ex-wife in the UK.

By Avital Borisovsky
Updated: July 13, 2016
saudi billionaire

Sheikh Walid Juffali, a Saudi billionaire who is the chairman of one of Saudi Arabia's largest companies, has been able to avoid having to pay a multi-million-dollar divorce settlement to his ex-wife. He managed this feat by gaining legal immunity from prosecution under UK laws by virtue of being appointed a permanent representative of St. Lucia to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

The case began in 2014 when Juffali, 60, divorced his supermodel ex-wife, 53-year-old Christina Estrada, who lives in London. With diplomatic immunity, Juffali is exempted from UK laws and is protected from having to divide his almost $6 billion fortune with his ex-wife, with whom he has a 13-year-old daughter.

The UK government has since requested St. Lucia to waive the oil tycoon’s immunity in order to have him take part in court proceedings and be part of a financial agreement. On Dec. 23, a letter was sent to St. Lucia’s acting High Commissioner in London from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Director of Protocol (FCO) requesting a response by Jan. 8; to date, there has been no response from the St. Lucian government.

Juffali and Estrada were married for 13 years. Estrada filed for divorce in 2012 after finding out Juffali had secretly married a 24-year-old television presenter under Islamic law – which permits men to have up to four wives. In 2014, just a few months after divorce proceedings began in London, Juffali traveled to St. Lucia – for the first time – and was appointed as permanent representative within weeks, despite having no previous connections to the island. The couple divorced by Muslim tradition where Juffali said “I divorce you” three times. Juffali has since denied trying to avoid a divorce settlement in the UK.

According to the Daily Mail, Juffali’s appointment was never publicly announced and he has not attended any meetings with the IMO since being appointed. However, St. Lucia’s Prime Minister had mentioned Juffali was planning to invest in the island and establish the Caribbean’s first-ever diabetes research facility in St. Lucia.

In an official statement, the Government of St. Lucia stated: “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 in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.”

St. Lucia and Juffali have been accused of making a mockery of British justice by politicians and human-rights lawyers.

Estrada is scheduled to have a four-day hearing – which began yesterday – in London with her legal representatives to figure out if she is entitled to a settlement despite her ex-husband’s immunity. 

Estrada was Juffali's second wife. His first wife, who was also Saudi, received almost $60 million in a divorce settlement in 2000.

Update (07/10/2016): 

The couple has since reached a settlement, granting Estrada a lump sum of $69 million, which doesn't include her own assets. She had originally requested over $1 million per year for clothes, money to keep a home in London and a country home in Henley-on-Thames, England, and five cars – two in the U.S. and three in London. While the Court of Appeal had considered Juffali's claim for immunity, they argued that his permanent residence in the U.K. prevented him from receiving such protection.

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January 19, 2016

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