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.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 21 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”