Obituary: Walid Juffali

Businessman descended from the Bani Khalid tribe in Saudi who paid his ex-wife £75m Newsdesk

Walid Juffali, who has died aged 61, was the Saudi billionaire recently ordered to pay £75m (€90m) in maintenance to his ex-wife Christina Estrada for her "reasonable needs"; jaw-dropping as the sum was, it was loose change to Juffali, whose family runs one of the Middle East's largest conglomerates with a fortune estimated at some £8bn.

Sheikh Walid was chairman of EA Juffali & Bros, founded in 1946 by his father Sheikh Ahmed and his brothers Ebrahim and Ali. The Juffalis came of the Bani Khalid tribe, rulers since the 15th century of much of what is now Iraq and eastern Saudi Arabia, and historic enemies of the House of Saud.

The family supplied governors of Nejd and in the late 19th century began to furnish camels to pilgrims travelling to Mecca.

Eschewing politics for commerce as the kingdom began to develop, the Juffalis won the contract to build its first electricity plant at Taif, south-east of Mecca. Thereafter they concentrated on infrastructure projects, ferrying water by lorry from their farm to supply these. By the 1950s they had substantial cement, communications, agriculture and construction businesses.

As elsewhere in the Arab world, however, they made the bulk of their wealth by striking partnership deals with Western companies.

When oil began to boom, they brought in technology, expertise and goods wanted by consumers, for instance signing a distribution deal in 1951 with Electrolux for refrigerators. In 1959, they became the exclusive agent for Mercedes and also built a factory to make Daimler-Benz trucks. Similar deals were struck with companies such as IBM, Massey-Ferguson, Siemens, Bosch and Michelin. By the 1970s the firm was growing at 50pc each year. A decade later, it was said to be the largest privately-owned business in Saudi Arabia, employing more than 50,000 people.

Walid was the eldest of Ahmed's four children with his wife Su'ad. He was born on April 30, 1955 and though little is known about his early life, he was probably schooled, like his brother Khaled, in Lebanon and then at Le Rosey in Switzerland. Like him too, he studied business at the University of San Diego, graduating in 1977. Towards the end of his life, he completed a Phd in neuroscience.

After working for several decades for the family firm, he became its chairman following his father's death in 1994. He was also chairman of Saudi American Bank and in 2005 was lined up to front the kingdom's version of The Apprentice.

Walid worked closely with Khaled but their other brother Tarek was something of a black sheep. In 2006, he died after taking an overdose of morphine and chloral hydrate prescribed to wean him off the 30 joints of skunk cannabis he smoked each day. He had also been addicted to cocaine, heroin and Rohypnol. Tarek had attempted to beat his habit as his wife was pregnant with twins.

Walid Juffali had close links to the UK - where all his children were educated - but he only came to the attention of the press in 2000 during his first divorce. He had married, in 1980, a young fellow Saudi, Basma al-Sulaiman, with whom he was reported to have had three children. They lived in a marble palace in Jeddah, where their guests included Margaret Thatcher, John Major and President George W Bush.

In 2000, however, he met Christina Estrada, a model and reputed friend of Prince Andrew. Juffali's divorce from Basma involved legal proceedings in Britain and he was obliged to settle $40m (€36m) on her.

He and Estrada were married in Dubai in 2001. They had a daughter and lived a gilded life at their several houses in Britain. In 2012, however, Estrada learned that she been replaced by model and TV presenter Loujain Adada. Saudi law permits a man to take up to four wives. The Lebanese-born Loujain, who at 25 was 35 years younger than Juffali, was married to him in Venice in a lavish ceremony said to have cost £10m. They had two children, although not long after their marriage, Juffali learned that he had cancer.

Following their divorce in 2014, Estrada, who was acknowledged by the courts to have been habitually resident in Britain, made a claim for ancillary relief. Her demand for £196m included provision for a London house costing £55m. She needed £1m a year for clothes, and £600,000 for private jet hire. "I am Christina Estrada," she said in court. "This is what I am accustomed to."

Juffali attempted to evade her claims on the grounds that he had diplomatic immunity. This stemmed from his recent appointment as the representative of the island of St Lucia, in the Caribbean, to the International Maritime Organisation, which had its headquarters in London. The Court of Appeal ultimately judged that even if he did have immunity, it did not affect the divorce proceedings.

Despite arguing that his own worth was no more than £114m, rather than the £8bn estimated by her lawyers, Juffali was ordered two weeks ago to pay Estrada £53m by July 29.

Taken with assets that he had already given her, such as a blue diamond ring valued at £10m, the total value of the settlement was £75m - the largest in British legal history. The judgment was expedited as Juffali's health was known to be worsening and he did not appear in court himself.

His third wife and children survive Juffali, who died on July 20.

© Telegraph