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Saudi princess charged in O.C. human trafficking case

Saudi princess Meshael Alayban is accused of forcing a Kenyan woman to work as a domestic servant in Irvine. She allegedly made the woman work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for $220 a month.

July 10, 2013|By Richard Winton
  • Meshael Alayban, 42, was taken into custody early Wednesday by Irvine police. She was being held on $5-million bail.
Meshael Alayban, 42, was taken into custody early Wednesday by Irvine police.… (Associated Press )

A woman whom Orange County authorities described as a Saudi royal princess was charged Wednesday with human trafficking for allegedly forcing a Kenyan woman to work as a domestic servant.

Meshael Alayban, 42, was taken into custody early Wednesday by police at her Irvine home in a gated community. Orange County prosecutors allege that Alayban forced the woman to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for only $220 a month. Authorities say she was unable to flee because Alayban kept the woman's passport and documents.

Authorities said the woman left the home on Tuesday. She boarded a bus and eventually contacted police.

Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas on Wednesday charged Alayban with one felony count of human trafficking.

"The law of our nation and California does not tolerate people who deprive or violate the liberty of another and obtain forced labor or services," Rackauckas said. "If any person is being enslaved, he or she should contact law enforcement."

In addition to the Kenyan woman, police said officers found four other workers being held under similar circumstances at Alayban's home. Detectives continue to investigate, but no charges have yet been filed in those cases.

Prosecutors requested that Alayban be held without bail because she was a flight risk. But a judge ordered she be held in lieu of $5 million. He also ordered her to surrender her passport, not to travel outside Orange County and to wear a monitor if released.

Orange County prosecutors identified Alayban as one of the wives of Saudi Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al Saud. She could not be reached for comment, but in a statement to the Los Angeles Times, her attorney, Paul S. Meyer, said there was no physical abuse, no physical restraint and that the complaints were about hours worked and wages paid.

"We intend to fully investigate this matter, and expect that the truth will resolve it," he said.

The servant, whose identity was not released by authorities, began working for the family in Saudi Arabia to help cover her young daughter's medical care, officials said. The woman was contacted through an agency in Kenya to work for Alayban's family in Saudi Arabia in March 2012. She was meant to work for two years and be paid $1,600 a month. She was told she'd work eight hours a day, five days a week and that her pay would rise after three months, authorities said.

Irvine police said that when the woman arrived in Saudi Arabia, Alayban took her passport. She accompanied Alayban and her family when they came to Irvine in May. Police said the servant came with four other women from the Philippines working under similar contracts.

She told detectives she was required to work excessive hours and paid only a fraction of the agreed-upon salary. When the woman complained about the working conditions and asked for her passport back so she could leave, Alayban refused to give it to her, police said.

The servant told authorities she was working for various Alayban family members living in four luxury apartments in a development off Jamboree Road, police said. She claimed she was not allowed to leave the complex without a member of the family present.

"We are gratified to have been able to help this victim find her freedom," Irvine Police Chief David L. Maggard Jr. said.

The servant finally left the complex Tuesday, carrying a suitcase and a U.S. State Department pamphlet on human trafficking, officials said. The pamphlet had been given to her at a U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia, where she was issued a travel visa, Maggard said.

A woman on the bus noticed she was upset and began talking to her. That woman eventually helped her contact police.

When police arrived at Alayban's home, they found the four other women. Police said they told detectives their travel documents had also been taken by Alayban.

Detectives were trying to retrieve the documents from a safe deposit box.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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