Says There’s No Such Precedent.
ALL eyes will be on the British Government now that the St Lucia government has turned down the suggestion that it waives the diplomatic immunity of its envoy at the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
The diplomat WalidJudffali of Saudi Arabia is being sued for divorce in a British court by his ex-wife Christina Estrada, but is using his diplomatic immunity to avoid being made to testify in the case.
Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony’s government has informed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) that it intends to uphold the principle of diplomatic immunity by allowing Juffali to invoke his immunity in the civil case.
The government advised the FCO of its position last Friday, after it received a letter from London requesting that it lifts Juffali’s immunity. After receiving the letter, the representative of the government of Saint Lucia, along with its attorney, met with FCO officials in London to discuss the matter.
The government of Saint Lucia said yesterday it has been assured by the FCO that .Juffali has not abused the privileges and immunities afforded to him, nor is the decision of the government of Saint Lucia to uphold the principle of diplomatic immunity an abuse of these privileges or immunities in any way.
A government statement here yesterday said: “While the Government of Saint Lucia fully respects the decision of the FCO to make such a request, it is not satisfied, based on its own examination of the facts, that a compelling case has been made out to grant a waiver of the diplomatic immunity of Dr.Juffali.
“The Government of Saint Lucia explains that based on all legal advice and precedence established in international diplomatic practice, the principle of diplomatic immunity must be safeguarded and should only be lifted in exceptional cases. Further, it must be a decision of the sending state, in this case Saint Lucia.”
The government of Saint Lucia said it was clear that based on the legal advice it received and diplomatic practice in such matters, “this case does not warrant the lifting of the immunity of Dr.Juffali. The Government of Saint Lucia has noted, in particular, that no precedent could be cited to show that such a request had been acceded to in the past”.
The government of Saint Lucia has therefore maintained its position that the parties should be allowed to settle their matrimonial dispute through negotiations and failing that, the Courts should decide if immunity can be waived in this matter.
But the St Lucia position is not going down well in Britain, at least judging from some press reports. The DAILY MAIL yesterday reported St Lucia as “shielding” Juffali, a billionaire. It said the British government had made “an extraordinary intervention” in the case between Juffali and Estrada, formally asking St Lucia to withdraw the tycoon’s immunity, noting that the St Lucian government had taken “the unusual step of choosing not to comply with the FCO’s demands”.
“The UK Government is said to be hugely disappointed at the response, and are expected to respond to St Lucia to make its feelings clear”, the DAILY MAIL said.
The move could leave Estrada, 53, without any legally binding settlement following her divorce from 60-year-old Juffali, who has an estimated fortune of £4billion.
The paper said Estrada’s legal representatives had now scheduled a four-day hearing at the Family Division of London’s High Court to examine whether her ex-husband’s immunity leaves her with any entitlement to a settlement. The hearing was due to start yesterday.
There are several inferences made in the British press that St Lucia aided Juffaliby appointing him to the IMO post so that he could avoid being made to testify in the case.
The MAIL reported that within months of divorce proceedings starting in London, Juffali travelled to St Lucia for the first time and. within weeks he had been appointed as the island’s permanent representative to the International Maritime Organisation – despite having no known qualifications in shipping or maritime law, nor any previous connection to St Lucia.
Said THE MAIL: “The appointment was never publicly announced by the St Lucia Labour Party and Mr.Juffali has so far attended no meetings in the 21 months since his appointment.
“The position grants him diplomatic immunity, and, once secured, he quickly divorced Ms Estrada in the traditional Muslim way by saying ‘I divorce you’ three times”.
Juffali, chairman of one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest conglomerates, denies the position was sought in order to avoid a settlement in the UK courts, and says the appointment was made in accordance with standard diplomatic procedures.
But the MAIL said the move had prompted outrage from politicians and leading human rights lawyers, who have accused St Lucia and Mr Juffali of making ‘a mockery of British justice’.
The paper reported yesterday: “Friendly governments usually waive the immunity of diplomats subject to legal proceedings in Britain, and opposition politicians in St Lucia have called upon their government to act and remove Mr Juffali from his post”.
The paper quoted Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell as saying that the row risked making “a mockery of diplomatic privileges”.
The Juffali story follows a string of recent incidents in which wealthy diplomats had claimed immunity from the UK courts, the MAIL said.
The paper also quoted Geoffrey Robertson QC, an international law expert, as saying that immunity should only be exercised to protect diplomats working in dangerous environments, and warned of a trend of cases where individuals are using the privilege to avoid the justice process.
Robertson was quoted as telling the MAIL:: “Diplomatic immunity puts officials above the law, and serves to protect ambassadors in hostile countries from being framed or honey-trapped.
“But where credible allegations are made of crimes, or in cases where diplomats are sued in connection with divorce or non-payment of money they owe, then the immunity should be withdrawn by the state that appointed them.
“This is an abuse which international law cannot tolerate as it could be used to protect wealthy criminals, or those who have seriously wronged other people.”