THE GUARDIAN – Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, has taken the highly unusual step of criticising a high court judge’s decision to strip diplomatic immunity from a Saudi billionaire facing divorce proceedings from his estranged wife.
Last month Christina Estrada, a former Pirelli calendar model, won the right to fight for a share of Sheikh Walid Juffali’s £4bn fortune. The couple split up following 13 years of marriage.
At the high court, Justice Anthony Hayden dismissed as “spurious” the Saudi businessman’s claim to have been shielded from litigation because of his role as permanent representative to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) for the tiny Caribbean island of St Lucia.
However, the Foreign Office said that if the decision stood, British diplomats could be hauled before the courts of any country in which they are serving and their position “scrutinised, and their status unjustifiably curtailed”. Hammond bluntly said the high court’s ruling “should not be upheld or endorsed”.
In the Juffali case, the judge decided that he had “no pre-existing connection to St Lucia” and there was no evidence that he “has any knowledge or experience of maritime matters”. He said the Saudi businessman only sought to become a diplomat to defeat “[his wife’s] claims consequent on the breakdown of their marriage”.
Juffali’s role as a diplomat, said the judge, was “an entirely artificial construct”, adding the sheikh “has not, in any real sense, taken up his appointment, nor has he discharged any responsibilities in connection with it”.
Juffali, who chairs one of Saudi Arabia’s largest companies, sought to reverse the judgment in the court of appeal. He said the decision was “deeply offensive, not least in its conclusion that his appointment … is an artifice”. The judgment is expected this week.