Walid Juffali, who chairs one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest conglomerates, is the subject of a claim by his former wife, Christina Estrada, whom he divorced last year. The Pirelli calendar model wants a share of his properties in Britain.
But Mr Juffali benefits from diplomatic immunity in Britain because of his position as St Lucia’s “permanent representative” to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
There is no record of Mr Juffali attending any meetings of the IMO in the 19 months since he took up this post. He does not possess any known qualifications in maritime law.
After Mr Juffali’s status as a diplomat was reported by The Telegraph, St Lucia’s government disclosed that Ms Estrada’s lawyers had asked for the billionaire’s immunity to be waived – and this request had been turned down.
“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,” said an official statement.
Friendly governments usually waive the immunity of diplomats subject to legal proceedings in Britain. St Lucia is a Commonwealth country which gained independence from Britain in 1979.
“If this was a genuine appointment, there’s a tradition of the government concerned waiving that immunity so the person can be subject to justice,” said Mark Stephens, a former president of the Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association.
“What I find astonishing is that it hasn’t happened in this case immediately. That only raises questions over what the government of St Lucia is doing in effectively colluding in avoiding the rule of law.”
Mr Juffali became St Lucia’s representative at the IMO in April 2014 and his name appeared on the London Diplomatic List five months later.
The St Lucian government “noted the concerns of individuals in response to the story carried in The Daily Telegraph” and offered assurances that “all necessary due diligence was done prior to the appointment of Dr Juffali”.
The government praised Mr Juffali as a “highly successful philanthropist and businessman”, describing him as “eminently suited to perform his diplomatic duties”.
St Lucia opened a new Honorary Consulate in Saudi Arabia on Nov 1.The head of the island’s diplomatic mission in Jeddah is Mr Juffali’s daughter, Halla. An earlier statement said the new Consulate was established at “no cost to the government of St Lucia”.