The employer of a Filipino domestic worker found dead in a freezer in Kuwait is in custody in Lebanon, a security source in Beirut confirmed to sources this Saturday.
The news came after a statement from the Foreign Ministry of the Philippines late Friday evening said that the suspect, Lebanese national Nader Essam Assaf, was reportedly arrested for the torture and murder of Filipino domestic worker Joanna Demafelis.
The security source said that Assaf was from the Baalbeck town of Boudai but that Lebanese authorities were yet to confirm the Kuwaiti extradition request. AFP newsagency reported that Assaf and his Syrian wife Mona were both arrested in Damascus. While Mona remains in custody in the Syrian capital, authorities in Damascus handed Assaf over to the Lebanese security forces Friday due to his Lebanese citizenship.
"The couple were arrested in Damascus. They were the subject of an Interpol red notice and the Syrian authorities handed the husband over to Lebanese custody on Friday morning," the official told AFP.
"Syria kept custody of the wife because she is a Syrian national," he added.
"Lebanon has asked Kuwait to pass on the husband's police record."
The official said that after leaving Kuwait, the couple had made a very brief stopover in Lebanon before traveling on to neighboring Syria.
“President [Rodrigo Duterte] welcomes the news that Nader Essam Assaf is now in the hands of authorities in Lebanon,” Foreign Affairs Secretary of the Philippines, Alan Peter S. Cayetano, said in a statement. “Assaf’s arrest is a critical first step in our quest for justice for Joanna and we are thankful to our friends in Kuwait and Lebanon for their assistance.”
The discovery of Demafelis’s body on Feb. 6 in the apartment in Kuwait City, where it had reportedly been kept for more than a year, sparked outrage and refocused attention on the plight of thousands of Filipinos toiling mostly as maids abroad. It prompted Duterte to ban the deployment of new Filipino workers to Kuwait, where many abuses have been reported.
“Kuwaiti authorities requested the assistance of Interpol in locating and arresting the couple who they believed fled to Lebanon or Syria shortly after the torture and murder of Demafelis,” the statement said.
Assaf and his wife have been the subject of an Interpol manhunt after Kuwaiti authorities discovered early this month the battered body of Demafelis inside a freezer in the couple’s abandoned apartment unit more than a year after her family reported her missing.
Secretary Cayetano said he expects Kuwaiti authorities to request the extradition of Assaf so he could stand trial in Kuwait.
After attending Demafelis’s wake Thursday in her hometown of Sara in the central Philippines, Duterte told reporters the ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait would continue and could be expanded to other countries.
Duterte said Demafelis’s body bore torture marks and signs that she was strangled. He said the government is conducting an assessment to “find out the places where we deploy Filipinos and our countrymen suffer brutal treatment and human degradation.”
The Philippines is a major labor exporter with about a tenth of its more than 100 million people working abroad. The workers have been called national heroes because the income they send home sustains the Southeast Asian nation’s economy, accounting for about 10 percent of its annual gross domestic product.
Philippine officials are under increasing pressure to do more to monitor the safety of the workers, who are mostly maids, construction workers and laborers.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told a Senate hearing that he recalled three labor officers from Kuwait to be investigated over their failure to act on a request by Demafelis’s family for help after she went missing in January last year, he said.
Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration reported at least 196 Filipinos had died in Kuwait in the last two years, mostly for unspecified medical reasons but also four from suicide.
Monitoring their wellbeing is difficult due to the sheer numbers of workers but also by improper documentation. Nearly 11,000 of the more than 252,000 Filipino workers in Kuwait are there illegally or are not properly authorized. – Additional reporting by AP
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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