Bangladesh's deputy consul general in New York was indicted on Monday on charges of labour trafficking and assault for forcing his servant to work without pay through threats and intimidation, a New York City prosecutor said.
Mohammed Shaheldul Islam has limited diplomatic immunity and was ordered to surrender his passport when he appeared before Queens Supreme Court Justice Daniel Lewis, said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown in a statement.
The bail was set at $50,000 bond or $25,000 cash. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted, reports Reuters.
Meanwhile, Dhaka yesterday expressed serious dissatisfaction over the detention of Shaheldul. The foreign ministry summoned the acting US envoy and sought an explanation.
“We called US Embassy Chargé d'Affaires Joel R Reifman and wanted to know the reason for the arrest of the Bangladeshi diplomat on the basis of an allegation raised by a person who has long been absconding,” a senior foreign ministry official told The Daily Star.
According to the indictment, Shaheldul brought another Bangladeshi, Mohammed Amin, to New York between 2012 and 2013 to work as a household help for Islam and his family.
“Soon after Mr Amin's arrival, the defendant allegedly took his passport and required the man to work 18 hours a day ... Even though Amin had a contract which outlines his compensation, it is alleged he was never paid for his work,” the statement said.
“If the victim disobeyed the defendant's orders, Amin was allegedly physically assaulted by the defendant, who either struck him with his hand or sometimes with a wooden shoe,” it added.
Shaheldul is a political appointee.
FOREIGN MINISTRY RELEASE
The Bangladesh foreign ministry in a press release yesterday said, “The domestic aide went missing about 13 months earlier [on 17 May 2016] from Mr Islam's residence. The incident was immediately reported to the Department of State by the Bangladesh consulate general in New York and also by the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington D.C. on 18 and 19 May 2016 respectively. However, no update had been received on this matter from the Department of State before the arrest of Mr Islam.
“We have reasons to believe that the arrest is a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963. We have lodged a strong protest with the Chargé d' affaires of the United States Embassy in Dhaka,” said the statement.
The ministry hoped its concerns would be duly addressed.
Talking to The Daily Star, Shameem Ahsan, consul general at the Consulate General of Bangladesh in New York, said: “I myself was present in the court with my colleagues for hours yesterday [Monday]. The judge left the court shortly after passing the order…. The Bangladesh embassy in Washington DC, the consulate general and officials concerned made sincere efforts to secure bail for the diplomat, but finding two solvent guarantors [with salary statements showing legal income], collecting required cash and processing [bond] papers needed some time. The bond paper is expected to be submitted to the court today [Tuesday].”
According to the charges, Amin's only form of income came from tips from guests at parties and a "miniscule" amount of money Shaheldul sent to Amin's family in Bangladesh.
On several occasions when Amin sought to leave, Shaheldul hit him and threatened to harm his mother and young son in Bangladesh, read the statement.
It also said that in 2014, shortly after an Indian diplomat in New York was charged with labour trafficking, Shaheldul wrote a check for Amin's cash-tip earnings that the latter then had to deposit in a bank account to create the appearance of a paycheck.
In late 2013, Devyani Khobragade, who was India's deputy consul general in New York, was arrested and subsequently accused of visa fraud and forcing her housekeeper and nanny to work 100-hour weeks for just over $1 an hour.
Khobragade's arrest and strip search provoked outrage in India and caused a major diplomatic rift between the USA and India. The charges against her were dismissed because she had diplomatic immunity. After she left the USA, a New York grand jury later issued a new indictment for visa fraud.
Last year, a Manhattan federal judge declared the former Bangladeshi consul general in New York and his wife to be in default for ignoring a lawsuit by a former domestic worker who claimed they forced him to work without pay in slavery-like conditions.