Los Angeles: Attorneys for a Saudi Arabian princess accused of human trafficking offered a starkly different take Monday on the life of a Kenyan domestic servant who prosecutors said was forced to work long hours for little pay.
Meshael Al Ayban, 42, was arrested at her home in Irvine, Calif, this month for allegedly forcing the Kenyan woman to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for $220 a month. The servant, who has a young daughter in Kenya, could not leave because her passport was kept in a safe deposit box at a local bank, prosecutors said.
Al Ayban was released from custody on $5 million bail July 11. She is required to wear a GPS tracking device and is not allowed to leave Orange County without permission from the court. At a hearing in Orange County Superior Court on Monday, Alayban’s arraignment was postponed until September 20.
After the hearing, defence attorneys Jennifer L. Keller and Paul S. Meyer offered a portrait of the servant’s living situation that contrasted sharply with what has emerged from prosecutors and police.
They said the woman, whose name has not been released, and other employees of the Al Aybans travelled first-class to the US on Emirates Airline with tickets that cost $10,000 each.
The family and the workers flew together “because the family would have felt guilty if they were in the back,” Keller said.
The family and servants arrived in May and moved into a high-end Irvine apartment community. Once there, the servants had cellphones and access to the Internet and Facebook, and the family gave them access to cable channels in their native languages, according to a statement provided by Keller and Meyer.
The workers were allowed to use the spa, gym and pool and “were often dropped off to shop alone at neighbourhood malls, all paid for by the family,” the statement said.
Prosecutors have said that the servant was refused a day off and not allowed to take breaks. They also said she was barred from leaving the home except for family outings in which she carried the family’s bags.
Prosecutors said the alleged victim came to the US with Al Ayban and her family in May after having lived with the family in Saudi Arabia for about one year. Al Ayban and the woman had temporary visas. Meyer has said the matter boils down to a wage and hour dispute between Al Ayban and the woman.
Experts and law enforcement officials said that in Saudi Arabia, the servant’s working arrangement is fairly commonplace.
“The people who are hired as such think they’re getting a benefit from it.... They’re getting a roof over their head. They’re getting fed,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of homeland security investigations in Los Angeles and southern Nevada.
“On the face of it they think they’re getting treated well. So they don’t think of themselves as victims.”