The deputy consul-general of Bangladesh in New York City was indicted on charges of labor trafficking and assault for forcing his house servant to work without pay through threats and intimidation, according to prosecutors.
Mohammed Shaheldul Islam has limited diplomatic immunity and was ordered to surrender his passport when he appeared in the Queens Supreme Court on Monday.
The victim, identified as Mohammed Amin, was brought to Queens from Bangladesh sometime between 2012 and 2013 to work as a household servant 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,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement.
“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,” Brown said.
The victim’s only source of income was tips from guests whom he served at parties, or from the tiny amount that was sent to his family in Bangladesh.
When a news story broke in 2014 about an Indian diplomat charged with labor trafficking, Islam is alleged to have taken the victim’s tips and given the money back to him in the form of a check, forcing Amin to deposit the check to give the appearance of receiving pay.
When Amin asked to leave Islam’s employ, he was hit and threatened with harm to Amin’s family, including threats to shame his daughter. On May 17, 2016, Amin managed to escape from the residence and reported his experience to the police.
The 33-count indictment against Islam includes assault, labor trafficking, unlawful imprisonment, failure to pay minimum wage and harassment. His bail was set at $50,000 bond or $25,000 cash. If convicted Islam could face up to 15 years in prison. He is due back in court on June 28.
The Bangladeshi embassy in Washington, DC said that Amin had made the accusations in bad faith and that they 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,” embassy spokesman Shamim Ahmad said, according to Reuters. “We hope the court will give its verdict in the matter judiciously.”
Shameem Ahsan, the consul-general of Bangladesh, told Reuters over the telephone from New York that Amin disappeared on May 17, 2016, and that the consulate informed the US State Department office in New York of the disappearance the very next day.
“It is surprising for us that after 13 months he has appeared with these allegations,” said Ahsan. “Why did he not raise this issue earlier?”
In December 2013, India’s deputy consul-general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested and accused of visa fraud for 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 incident. The charges against Khobragade were dismissed because she had diplomatic immunity, but a New York grand jury indicted her for visa fraud after she departed the US.
Last year, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that the previous Bangladeshi consul-general and his wife were in default for ignoring a lawsuit by a former domestic worker, who accused Monirul Islam and Fahima Tahsina Prova of forcing him to work without pay in slavery-like conditions.