Morocco ex-diplomat to UN accused of visa fraud over workers

The visa applications said the workers would be employed as administrative or technical staff at the consulate or Moroccan UN mission, and some included fake employment contracts. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 14 December 2019

Morocco ex-diplomat to UN accused of visa fraud over workers

  • The accused brought over 10 workers illegally since 2006
  • The workers were used as personal drivers, domestic helpers and farmhands

NEW YORK: Prosecutors in New York have charged a former Moroccan ambassador to the United Nations and others with visa fraud, accusing them of bringing workers to the United States using fake employment contracts and then exploiting them.
Abdeslam Jaidi, his ex-wife Maria Luisa Estrella and her brother Ramon Singson brought in more than 10 workers from the Philippines and Morocco since about 2006, according to the indictment filed in federal court in New York.
The visa applications said the workers would be employed as administrative or technical staff at the consulate or Moroccan UN mission, and some included fake employment contracts, it said.
Instead, the workers were used as personal drivers, domestic helpers and farmhands, the indictment said.
They were paid low wages — sometimes less than $500 a month — and worked long hours without time off. Some had to hand over their passports, it also said.
“This case sends a strong message that diplomatic immunity does not equal impunity,” said Martina Vandenberg, head of the Washington-based Human Trafficking Legal Center.
“Even high-ranking diplomats can be called to account if there are allegations of visa fraud and exploitation.”
Jaidi served as UN ambassador from Morocco.
Other foreign diplomats in the United States have been accused in recent years over treatment of their employees.
Earlier this year, the US government suspended new visas for domestic employees of Malawian officials after one of its diplomats failed to pay $1.1 million in damages to a woman she trafficked in the United States.
Supporters have warned that domestic workers employed by diplomats are vulnerable to abuses and even human trafficking because their visas chain them to specific employers.
Being tied to a specific employer means they cannot switch to a better job and if they quit, they typically must leave the country.
The charges, filed on Thursday in US District Court in White Plains, N.Y., were conspiracy to commit offenses and defraud and conspiracy to induce aliens to come to, enter and reside in the country.
The crimes carry maximum sentences of five and 10 years in prison, respectively.
Estrella, 60, was arrested in March, while Jaidi, 82, who lives in Rabat, Morocco, and Singson, 55, who lives in Manila, are at large.
Her lawyers declined to comment.


Yemeni president in US for annual medical checkup

Updated 13 August 2020

Yemeni president in US for annual medical checkup

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi touched down in the US for his annual medical checkup on Thursday, the Yemeni Embassy in the US said.
Ambassador Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak received Hadi at the airport in Cleveland, Ohio, where the appointment is due to take place, and “reaffirmed his utmost best wishes to the president for continued good health,” the embassy said in a brief statement.
Hadi left for the US after appointing a new governor and a new security chief in Aden, and mandating new Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed to form a new government. Hadi has travelled regularly to Cleveland for medical treatment since becoming president in early 2012, reportedly suffering from heart problems.
Saeed asked the governor, Ahmed Hamid Lamlis, to focus his efforts on reviving public institutions in Aden, restoring peace and security and fixing basic services that have been hit hard by years of instability. The official Saba news agency reported that the prime minister pledged Lamlis his government’s full support.
Saeed also entered discussions with various political factions in Yemen with a view to forming his government. Abdul Malik Al-Mekhlafi, an adviser to President Hadi, said on Twitter that the administration would be announced within a month, as the internationally recognized government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) enacted security and military components of the Riyadh Agreement.
The STC recently rescinded a controversial declaration of self-rule under a new Saudi-brokered proposal to accelerate the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.
Signed by both sides in late 2019, the agreement was designed to end hostilities in Aden and other southern provinces. Under the deal, the government and the STC were agreed to withdraw their forces from contested areas in southern Yemen, move heavy weapons and military units from Aden and allow the new government to resume duties.
Meanwhile, a judiciary committee assigned by the country’s attorney general to investigate reports of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored at Aden’s port found hat the material was in fact a different fertilizer, urea, which could also prove hazardous if mixed with other materials.
In a letter addressed to the Yemen Gulf of Aden Ports Corporation, Judge Anes Nasser Ali, a local prosecutor, ordered the port’s authorities to remove the urea from the city.
Shortly after the tragic explosion in the Lebanese capital Beirut last Tuesday, Fatehi Ben Lazerq, editor of the Aden Al-Ghad newspaper, ignited public uproar after suggesting 4,900 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in 130 containers had been gathering dust at the port for the last three years, which could cause an equally destructive explosion. The story prompted the country’s chief prosecutor, politicians and the public to call for an investigation.