Saudi princess charged with human trafficking in US

Meshael Alayban is charged with human trafficking after Kenyan worker flees

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 4:21am


A Saudi princess has been charged with human trafficking for allegedly holding a domestic worker against her will and forcing her to work at a California condominium, prosecutors said.

Meshael Alayban, 42, who was charged with one count of human trafficking, faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

Alayban was arrested after a Kenyan woman carrying a suitcase flagged down a bus on Tuesday and told a passenger she believed she was a human trafficking victim.

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

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

This is not a contract dispute. This is holding someone captive against their will

"This is not a contract dispute," Orange county district attorney Tony Rackauckas told an Orange county court at a bail hearing on Wednesday. Likening the case to slavery, he said "this is holding someone captive against their will".

A judge set bail at US$5 million and required Alayban to submit to GPS monitoring.

He also banned her from leaving the county without prior authorisation.

Alayban did not appear in court in Santa Ana. Her lawyer, Paul Meyer, said the case was a contractual dispute and argued his client should not be assigned a ransom-like bail solely because she was rich.

He said she had been travelling to the US 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.

Rackauckas had asked the judge to deny bail for Alayban or set it at US$20 million, saying it was unlikely any amount would guarantee a Saudi princess would show up in court. He said the Saudi consulate had already offered to cover US$1 million in bail initially set after her arrest.

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

The alleged victim had signed a two-year contract with an employment agency guaranteeing she would be paid US$1,600 a month to work eight hours a day, five days a week.

But starting in March last year, she was forced to cook, clean and do other household chores for 16 hours a day, seven days a week and was paid only US$220 per month, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said the victim's passport was taken from her, and she was not allowed to return to Kenya. The forced labour case is the first to be brought in Orange county under a human trafficking ballot initiative passed last year by California voters.

Alayban is one of the wives of Saudi Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, the district attorney's office said.