x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Saudi princess charged with human trafficking of worker

US prosecutors charge Meshael Alayban with human trafficking for allegedly holding a Kenyan domestic worker against her will at an Orange County property.

SANTA ANA, California // A Saudi princess has been charged with human trafficking for allegedly holding a domestic worker against her will at an Orange County property, prosecutors said.

Orange County district attorney, Tony Rackauckas, on Wednesday identified Meshael Alayban, 42, as a Saudi princess who was charged with a count of human trafficking. If convicted, she faces up to 12 years in prison.

Ms Alayban was arrested after a Kenyan woman carrying a suitcase stopped a bus and told a passenger she believed she was a human-trafficking victim.

The passenger helped her contact police, who searched the Irvine condominium where she and her family were staying, authorities said.

The 30-year-old woman was hired in Kenya last month and her passport was taken from her on arrival in Saudi Arabia. She was forced to work excessive hours and was paid less than she was promised and not allowed to leave, authorities said.

"This is not a contract dispute," Mr Rackauckas told the court during a bail hearing on Wednesday. "This is holding someone captive against their will."

An Orange County judge set bail at US$5 million (Dh18.36m) for Ms Alayban and required her to submit to GPS monitoring. He also banned her from leaving the county without prior authorisation.

Ms Alayban did not appear in court. Her attorney, Paul Meyer, said the case was a contractual dispute and argued his client shouldn't be assigned a ransom-like bail solely because she was wealthy. He said she had been travelling to the United States since she was a child, owned properties there and had given her word she would address the allegations. "This is a domestic work hours dispute," he said.

Mr Rackauckas had asked the judge to deny bail for Ms Alayban, or set it at $20 million. He said the Saudi Consulate had already offered to cover $1m in bail initially set after her arrest.

Police said Ms Alayban's family travelled to the US in May with the victim and four women from the Philippines.

The victim was working "around the clock" for the family cooking, cleaning and caring for children, said Irvine police chief, David Maggard Jr.

She had been promised wages of $1,600 a month but was paid only about $200 a month, Mr Rackauckas said.

The other four women left the home voluntarily with police once authorities arrived. They told police they were interested in being free, Mr Maggard said.

Ms Alayban was set to be arraigned in court yesterday.

Mr Rackauckas said Ms Alayban is married to a Saudi prince.