Bangladeshi diplomat in US accused of forcing servant to work without pay

Story highlights

  • Bangladesh says it has reason to believe arrest violates consular relations accord
  • Diplomat accused of threatening to kill servant's family members if he attempted to escape

(CNN)A high-ranking Bangladeshi diplomat based in New York accused of forcing his servant to work for up to 18 hours a day without pay was charged Monday with labor trafficking and assault.

In a case described by the district attorney as "very disturbing," Mohammed Shaheldul Islam, 45, a deputy consul general of Bangladesh, is alleged to have used a combination of physical violence and "vile" threats to control the victim, Mohammed Amin, for a period of several years.
Islam, who has limited diplomatic immunity, was ordered to surrender his passport by the district supreme court justice, according to a statement by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. Bail was set at $50,000 bond or $25,000 cash. He could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
    Abida Islam, the director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Americas Wing in Dhaka, said in a text message, "We have summoned the US (ambassador) to the Ministry this afternoon and lodged strong protest on the arrest of our (deputy consul general) New York."
    Asked what step the Bangladeshi government would take next, she replied, "Since a legal proceeding has been initiated we will follow the law of the land."
    In an official statement, the ministry said it had reasons to believe the arrest was a "clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations." The statement did not expand on those reasons.
    It added that the ministry last year had reported the servant missing to the US State Department and the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington.
    "We would like to state that we had earlier reported about the missing ... domestic aide. The domestic aide went missing about 13 months earlier ... from Mr. Islam's residence," the statement said. "However, no update had been received on this matter from the Department of State before the arrest of Mr. Islam."

    Threats and violence

    Authorities allege Islam arranged for fellow countryman Mohammed Amin to travel to the United States between 2012 to 2013 to work for his family in Queens as a domestic worker, an arrangement common among South Asian diplomats.
    But shortly after his arrival, Islam seized Amin's passport and warned him that if he tried to leave, he would kill his mother and young son, or "shame" his college-age daughter, according to the criminal charges.
    Authorities allege that during this period, Amin's only source of income came from tips given to him by guests while working as a server at parties hosted by Islam, and "minuscule" sums sent by Islam to his family back home in Bangladesh. According to the charges, Amin was forced to work 18 hours a day.
    If Amin disobeyed his orders, he was allegedly assaulted by Islam, who struck him with his hand, or sometimes with a wooden shoe.

    33 charges

    In 2014, coverage of a similar case, in which India's deputy consul general in New York was charged with forcing her housekeeper to work long hours for little pay, allegedly prompted Islam to attempt to cover up his actions by taking most of Amin's tip money and returning it in the form of a check, which Amin was then made to deposit into his bank account, "creating the appearance that the employee was receiving a paycheck."
    In May 2016, Amin was able to escape from the Queens residence and report his experience to the police.
    Islam has been charged in a 33-count indictment with second- and fourth-degree grand larceny, second- and third-degree assault, labor trafficking, and second-degree unlawful imprisonment.
    "The long list of 33 charges in the indictment is a clear indication of the shocking depth of the deprivation and abuse allegedly meted out by this diplomat against his helpless domestic worker," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
      "Bangladesh should make an example of this diplomat by publicly washing their hands of him, and ensuring this never happens again."
      According to a report by the International Labour Organization, there are more than 53 million domestic workers worldwide, of whom more than 21 million are in Asia and the Pacific, and this number is increasing steadily in both developed and developing economies.