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No Diplomatic Immunity for Saudi Sheikh in International Divorce Case

Billionaire Sheikh Walid Juffali’s claim that he has diplomatic immunity from his ex-wife bringing a financial settlement claim against him has been thrown out of court.

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The judge, Mr Justice Hayden, ruled in favour of Christina Estrada who was married to Sheikh Juffali for 13 years. Ms Estrada is seeking a financial settlement on divorce for herself and their 13-year-old daughter who she lives with in London.

Juffali tried to claim diplomatic immunity from his ex-wife’s maintenance claim because in April 2014 he was appointed as a permanent representative to the International Maritime Organisation by the island of Saint Lucia.

The judge believed that Juffali was appointed as a diplomat for the Caribbean island solely because he wanted to prevent Ms Estrada from making financial claims against him. Juffali has several multi-million-pound properties in the UK and abroad. Mr Justice Hayden pointed out in his verdict that the Sheikh hadn’t taken up this appointment as he had not been to any International Maritime Organisation meetings since taking up the position.

It was successfully argued that English courts have jurisdiction on their finances in divorce, even though Juffali had divorced Ms Estrada in Saudi Arabia. English divorce courts can have jurisdiction in international divorce cases when one or both of the couple are resident in England or Wales.

As it was not possible for Ms Estrada to bring a financial settlement claim in Saudi Arabia it made sense for her to bring her case, which could be worth a substantial share of Mr Juffali’s estimated £4bn wealth, in the English courts. However, it is not always clear cut as to where to issue divorce proceedings and where to make maintenance claims when you live in different countries.

Making a smart choice as to where you make your claim upon divorce is crucial as different countries have different divorce laws. These can have a major impact on the outcome of a divorce settlement. That is why in cases where you live across different countries it is always best to get advice from an international divorce lawyer.

For a no-obligation initial consultation call the international divorce solicitors at Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone 0800 916 9055 (UK) or +44 20 7657 1555 (outside the UK). Our UK-based call centre is open 24/7. Alternatively, you can contact us online and we will contact you.


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