Bangladesh diplomat in New York charged with labor trafficking, assault

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Bangladesh’s deputy consul general in New York was indicted on Monday on charges of labor 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.

Bail was set at $50,000 bond or $25,000 cash. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

According to the indictment, Islam 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 Mr. 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, Mr. Amin was allegedly physically assaulted by the defendant, who either struck him with his hand or sometimes with a wooden shoe,” it said.

A spokesman for the Bangladesh embassy in Washington said it believed Amin had filed the case in bad faith and the allegations were “fabricated” and “baseless”.

“It may be noted that Mr. Islam decided to cancel Mr. Amin’s contract and was preparing to send him back to Bangladesh due to his irresponsible acts,” Shamim Ahmad, the spokesman, said.

“We hope the court will give its verdict in the matter judiciously,” he said.

Shameem Ahsan, the consul general of Bangladesh, told Reuters over the telephone from New York that Amin disappeared on May 17, 2016 and the very next day the consulate informed the U.S. state department office in New York.

“It is surprising for us that after 13 months he has appeared with these allegations, why did he not raise this issue earlier,” he said.

According to the charges, Amin’s only form of income came from tips from guests at parties and a “miniscule” amount of money Islam sent to Amin’s family in Bangladesh.

On several occasions when Amin sought to leave, Islam hit him and threatened to harm his mother and young son in Bangladesh, the statement said.

On occasion, Islam also stated that he would have Amin’s college-age daughter “shamed” if he did not continue to work as his servant, the statement said. The statement did not make clear what Islam meant by shaming.

The statement also said that in 2014, shortly after an Indian diplomat in New York was charged with labor trafficking, Islam 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 United States and India. The charges against her were dismissed because she had diplomatic immunity. After she left the United States, 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.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Addditional reporting by Serajul Quadir in DHAKA; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Lisa Shumaker, Tom Hogue and Michael Perry