by Florence F. Hibionada/PNS
CALIFORNIA, USA – Four Filipina domestic helpers are in police custody in California following an early morning joint operations by US authorities in responds to a human trafficking complaint. The four are co-workers of a 30 year-old Kenyan national who escaped from a plush condominium complex in Irvine, California.
The Kenyan when brought to the Irvine Police Department (IPD) by a responding motorist said she is a victim of slavery and forced to work against her will. She identified her employer as Saudi Princess Meshael Alayban, a frequent traveler to the US and owner of several plush properties in California.
After hours of investigation and verification, the IPD alerted the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigation (HSI). A joint operation was then conducted that led to the arrest of the 42 year-old Princess. This, alongside the discovery of the four Filipina domestic helpers whose passports were likewise taken from their possession reportedly by the Princess herself.
All five are part of the Princess’ entourage of helpers. Their identities are currently withheld though by US authorities pending further investigation.
The Orange County District Attorney’s office is prosecuting the case. In an official statement obtained by Philippine News Service (PNS), bail was set at $5 Million (Php20.5 Million) for the one count of human trafficking felony charge.
Meantime, probe continues on the plight and situation of the four Filipina workers with no immediate information as of yet as to whether all four will also pursue charges against the Princess.
“Based on the law, the court set bail at $5 million and ordered terms for the defendant if she posts bail including the surrender of her passport, no travel outside of Orange County without approval from the court, and a GPS tracking device be worn at all times,” the District Attorney’s office said.
The Princess’ was arraigned last week.
“The laws of our nation and California do not tolerate people who deprive or violate the liberty of another and obtain forced labor or services,” said District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. “If any person is being enslaved, he or she should contact law enforcement. Any victim of human trafficking will receive the benefit and protection of the laws of the United States and California.”
Similar strong sentiments by HSI Special Agent In Charge Claude Arnold.
“In this country, it is not only unacceptable to hold people against their will, it is criminal. This case should serve as an example to human trafficking victims that they can come to authorities without fear, so we can provide them with protection and bring those responsible to justice,” Arnold said.
Alayban is one of the wives of Saudi Arabian Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al Saud.
With the investigation unfolding, the District Attorney’s Office shares results of its preliminary findings.
“The defendant is accused of making the victim work 16 hours a day and seven days a week without a day off and paying only $220 a month. She is accused of taking away the victim’s passport and refusing to allow the victim to return to Kenya,” the media statement went. “On May 6, 2013, Alayban is accused of bringing Jane Doe to the United States and instructing the victim on how to describe her work conditions to the United States Embassy. She is accused of telling Jane Doe to falsely state that Jane Doe worked within the hours and was paid as agreed in her contract. Upon arrival at Los Angeles International Airport, U.S.A., the defendant is accused of giving Jane Doe her Kenyan passport for the purpose of passing through customs and then immediately taking the victim’s passport from her as soon as they had left the area.”
Alayban is accused of paying the victim only $220 a month, forcing the victim to work long hours, refusing the victim a day off, not allowing any break, refusing to return the victim’s passport or travel documents, and refusing to allow Jane Doe to leave the residence except for a family outing so the victim could carry the family’s bags.
On July 9, 2013, Jane Doe was able to escape the residence and flagged down a bus driver. The victim was in possession of a U.S. Department of State pamphlet, given to her at the embassy in Saudi Arabia when she was issued her travel visa, describing her rights and warning of human trafficking.
Officers from the Irvine Police Department (IPD) responded and investigated the case for human trafficking.
Alayban was arrested at her Irvine apartment on July 10, 2013, by IPD and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). While in the apartment, IPD and HSI located four additional Filipino female workers, whose passports may also have been seized by the defendant’s family, in the home. The investigation regarding these potential victims and other potential defendants is ongoing. The Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security is also providing substantial assistance with the ongoing investigation,” the official statement went.
To note, it was only in November 2012 when the State’s Anti-Human Trafficking Proposition 35 (Prop 35) was enacted. This is aimed at increasing the penalty for human trafficking, particularly in cases involving the trafficking of minor by force. Human exploitation and trafficking as defined by Proposition 35 comes in two forms – forced labor and forced commercial sexual exploitation.
This case is the first to be prosecuted under Prop 35 in Orange County for forced labor. /MP