A Saudi royal princess did not appear in court Monday on human trafficking charges, drawing a rebuke from an Orange County judge who said “I expect her to be here” for future hearings.
Meshael Alayban, 42, is charged with forcing a Kenyan woman to work as a domestic servant, toiling long hours for little pay.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gerald Johnston said he was concerned that the princess did not show up in court, but could not find anything in the court record to indicate that her presence for the hearing had been ordered.
Her arraignment -- when she is expected to enter a plea -- was pushed back to Sept. 20.
Alayban, who was arrested July 10, has been been free on bond since the Saudi Arabian consulate posted her $5 million bail. She was ordered to wear a GPS tracking device and told not to leave Orange County without the court’s permission. She was also barred from having contact with her alleged victim.
Though the Kenyan woman told authorities that she had been virtually imprisoned and that her passport had been taken from her and locked in a safe, Alayban’s attorney offered a different look at her treatment at the luxurious Irvine condo where they lived.
Alayban, according to defense attorneys Paul S. Meyer and Jennifer Keller, provided the Kenyan woman and three other household employees with cellphones, full use of the Internet and cable television in their native languages.
“They enjoyed full use of the spa, gym and pool and were often dropped off alone at neighborhood malls, all paid for by the family,” the statement from the attorneys said.
Prosecutors said the alleged victim came to the U.S. with Alayban and her family in May after having lived with the family in Saudi Arabia for about one year. Alayban and the woman had temporary visas. Meyer has said the matter boils down to a wage and hour dispute between Alayban and the woman.
The case was met with shock and outrage in Irvine, a city famous as a melting pot of many cultures. But experts and law enforcement officials said that in Saudi Arabia, the servant's working arrangement is fairly commonplace.
"The people who are hired as such think they're getting a benefit from it.... They're getting a roof over their head. They're getting fed," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of homeland security investigations in Los Angeles and southern Nevada.
"On the face of it they think they're getting treated well. So they don't think of themselves as victims."
Esquivel writes for the Los Angeles Times.