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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Both suspects in Kuwait murder of Filipina held

Syrian authorities surrendered Nader Essam Assaf to Beirut because of his Lebanese citizenship, but his Syrian wife, Mona, remains in custody in Damascus

A handout photo made available by the Philippine Presidential Photographs Division shows president Rodrigo Duterte (L) speaking to the parents of Joanna Demafelis during a wake in the town of Sara, Iloilo province, Philippines, on February 22, 2018. EPA
A handout photo made available by the Philippine Presidential Photographs Division shows president Rodrigo Duterte (L) speaking to the parents of Joanna Demafelis during a wake in the town of Sara, Iloilo province, Philippines, on February 22, 2018. EPA

The employers of a Filipina maid found dead in a freezer in Kuwait were both arrested in the Syrian capital Damascus, Lebanese and Philippine officials said on Saturday.

Syrian authorities surrendered Nader Essam Assaf to Beirut on Friday because of his Lebanese citizenship, but his Syrian wife, Mona, remains in custody in Damascus, a Lebanese judicial official said.

The murder of Joanna Demafelis sparked outrage in the Philippines and prompted president Rodrigo Duterte to impose a departure ban on Filipinos planning to work in Kuwait.

The 29-year-old's body, which allegedly showed signs of torture, was found earlier this month inside a freezer in the abandoned apartment unit of the detained couple.

The two suspects have been the subject of an Interpol manhunt since Demafelis' body was found more than a year after her family reported her missing.

"The couple were arrested in Damascus. They were the subject of an Interpol red notice and the Syrian authorities handed the husband over to Lebanese custody on Friday morning," the official said.

"Syria kept custody of the wife because she is a Syrian national," he added.

"Lebanon has asked Kuwait to pass on the husband's police record."

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The official said that after leaving Kuwait, the couple had made a very brief stopover in Lebanon before travelling on to neighbouring Syria.

The Philippines' foreign affairs department also confirmed the second arrest in a statement late Saturday.

"With the two suspects now in custody, [Philippine authorities] will follow president Duterte's instructions to vigorously pursue justice for Demafelis," foreign affairs secretary Alan Cayetano said.

Mr Duterte has vowed to bring justice to Demafelis's family, lashing out at Kuwait and alleging Arab employers routinely abuse Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps.

Kuwait has said it is investigating reported deaths and abuses, and insisted there were only a small number considering that there are more than 250,000 Filipinos working in the emirate.

Mr Duterte this week sent a team of labour officials to Kuwait to seek greater protection for migrant workers.