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12 July 2016

Ex-model wins £75m divorce settlement from Saudi billionaire

A former Pirelli calendar model has won a £75m divorce settlement from her billionaire Saudi ex-husband after arguing in the high court that she had to meet her “reasonable needs”, reports The Guardian.

Christina Estrada, 54, had been seeking £238m from Sheikh Walid Juffali, 61, with whom she has a daughter. Her lawyers said the total settlement, taking into account her assets, was about £75m, a figure that included a cash payment of £53m.

In a statement, Estrada said: “I am very grateful for today’s ruling. I have lived in the United Kingdom since 1988 and am thankful for access to the British courts. I never wanted to be here. I always wanted to resolve the matter amicably. This process has been incredibly bruising and distressing. Walid and I were happily married for 12 years and have a beautiful daughter together. He took both a second wife and divorced me without my knowledge.

“His use of diplomatic immunity to try and prevent me from access to a legally binding settlement set a worrying precedent. Having grown up in a middle-class family and having enjoyed a successful career until my marriage, I am fully aware that the spectacular life Walid and I led was immensely fortunate and rarefied. And I fully understand how this can be perceived in the wider world. My focus now is to support my daughter and move forward with our lives. For her sake and the sake of our wider family, I hope we can now resolve matters sensibly.”

Estrada was cross-examined in court over her claim that she requires £1m a year for clothes, including £40,000 for fur coats, £109,000 for haute couture dresses and £21,000 for shoes. She told the family judge Mrs Justice Roberts, sitting in London: “I am Christina Estrada. I was a top international model. I have lived this life. This is what I am accustomed to. It is difficult to convey the extraordinary level of luxury and opulence we were fortunate enough to enjoy.”

Estrada maintained that she needed enough from her ex-husband to afford a luxury home in London worth about £60m, a £4.4m house in Henley-on-Thames and £495,000 for five cars: three in London and two in the US.

Although her final award fell short of the stratospheric target figure, Justin Warshaw QC, appearing for Juffali, said: “[Awarding] £53m to a lady who has £20m [in her own assets] is an astonishing amount of money. [Anything more] would drive this case into fantasy territory.”

Estrada’s lawyers estimate that her ex-husband is worth £8bn. Juffali, who has had three wives, said in a written statement that this was a grossly exaggerated “fantasy” figure and put his current net worth at £113.8m.

Juffali could not attend court because he is being treated in Switzerland for advanced lung cancer. He said in his statement that he had left the vast majority of his wealth to his three eldest children, including his teenage daughter with Estrada, who cannot be identified.

Estrada, a US citizen who has based herself in the UK for more than two decades, lives in their matrimonial home on the edge of Windsor Great Park. It is set in 33 acres of land and has been estimated to be worth between £22m and £60m. She also has a London flat.

Juffali divorced her in Saudi Arabia in 2014 under Islamic law, without her knowledge. In 2012, he married a 25-year-old Lebanese model, the mother of his two youngest children, while still married to Estrada. In Saudi Arabia, Muslim men are allowed to have more than one wife.

Estrada obtained leave under part three of the 1984 Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act to apply for financial relief in England, because she could not bring a case in Saudi Arabia.

Lawyers for Juffali told the judge that their client had been generous, buying her a luxurious house in Beverly Hills, and that he was largely responsible for her being “a very wealthy woman” with assets of more than £20m, sufficient to meet the needs of any 54-year-old woman.

The court heard that he was willing to offer her £17m in cash and the use of a luxurious £6.5m home in London, in their daughter’s name, for the next five years, while meeting all associated costs.

Sandra Davis, the head of the family department at Mishcon de Reya, who acted for Juffali, said: “[He] has shown himself to be a fair man who has been prepared to offer his ex-wife a more than comfortable lifestyle for the rest of her life, which he believes she deserves. The sole purpose of this case was to evaluate an appropriate financial settlement based on Ms Estrada’s needs, as opposed to the extraordinary demands presented by her at the start of this case.”

The Estrada/Juffali divorce will confirm London’s reputation as the divorce capital of the world, where ex-wives are confident of winning more generous settlements and relatively fast justice for those who can afford the large legal fees.

Mandy Rimmer, a solicitor at the law firm Stephensons, said: “England has one of the most flexible legal systems in the world. When deciding on such matters the court will take into account the needs of both parties as well as the needs of any dependents.

“However, it is also fair to say that with recent cuts in legal aid funding, rises in court fees, and London’s growing reputation for so-called ‘divorce tourism’, our courts are increasingly becoming the playing field for the super-wealthy - especially as these individuals have the endless financial capacity to appeal, claim and counter-claim.”

Jo Edwards, partner and head of family law at Forsters LLP , said: “Whilst the man in the street is understandably disbelieving when hearing about the level of maintenance claims made by Ms Estrada, the real story here is the need for reform of the law so that, in all cases, there is greater certainty around how claims for spousal maintenance will be determined …

“Arguably more important, though, are the more run-of-the-mill cases where parties do not want to spend much of a relatively limited pot going to court, just because no-one can advise them with any certainty (or they cannot find out for themselves) how the court will likely determine spousal maintenance claims in their case.”

Among other expenses highlighted by the judgment were Estrada’s annual budget of £26,000 for her mobile phone bill, £2.1m travel costs – including £600,000 for private jet charters – and £1m for clothing and jewellery. Other claims were £58,000 for two luxury handbags every year, £23,000 for six casual handbags every year and £35,000 on 10 clutch bags every year.

Estrada met Juffali in 2000. She has not worked since. Among the other properties they owned at various times were a grand palazzo in Venice which was purchased for €12.5m (£10.6m) and later sold for €22m.

The couple also built an “iceberg” chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland where several floors were constructed underground to house a swimming pool and parking for up to sixteen vehicles. It now occupies six to seven floors. Luxury materials were imported from all over the world, including quartz from Afghanistan and amethyst, said to be “the applicant’s birthstone”, for a wall in an underground spa.