The employer of a Filipino domestic worker, whose battered body was found in a freezer in an apartment in Kuwait City, has been arrested, Philippine officials said.
Nader Essam Assaf, a Lebanese national, is in custody in Lebanon, according to a statement from the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs. Assaf’s wife, Mona, who is Syrian, is still at large and is believed to be in Syria, the statement said.
Philippine officials said couple are the principal suspects in the brutal torture and killing of Joanna Daniela Demafelis, 29.
Assaf and his wife have been the subject of an Interpol manhunt after Kuwaiti authorities discovered Demafelis’ body in the freezer earlier this month. Authorities said they believe the woman’s body could have been stored there for up to one year.
Woman’s family reported her missing
Demafelis’ family lost contact with her in May 2016, about two years after she arrived in the Middle East, according to CNN Philippines.
Relatives said she never said anything bad about her employers but they suspected she was being watched closely. Demafelis was only able to speak to them three times a year, they told the network.
During what would be her final phone call home, Demafelis said she planned to come to the Philippines in 2018. But after not hearing from her for a nearly year, Demafelis’ family reported her missing, her sister told CNN Philippines.
Investigators tried to find her through the Kuwaiti agency that recruited her but discovered it had closed down. Police didn’t discover her body until investigators set their sights on her Lebanese employer, who had been accused of falsifying checks.
Thousands of overseas workers in Kuwait
Kuwait has become a popular destination for workers from the Philippines in recent years. The Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs said 276,000 Filipino workers were in Kuwait in January.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano said in a statement that President Rodrigo Duterte had been informed about Assaf’s arrest. Cayetano said he expects authorities to seek the Lebanese man’s extradition so he can stand trial in Kuwait.
Citing Demafelis’ death and instances of worker abuse, Duterte’s government offered free flights home for the 10,000 or so Filipinos who had overstayed their visas and ordered a ban on the further deployment of workers to Kuwait.
CNN’s Alexandra Field and Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.