Crime & Justice

OC prosecutors charge Saudi Arabian princess with human trafficking

Meshael Alayban was booked on charges of human trafficking in Irvine, Calif. She is the wife of a Saudi prince, according to the D.A.'s office.
Meshael Alayban was booked on charges of human trafficking in Irvine, Calif. She is the wife of a Saudi prince, according to the D.A.'s office.
Orange County District Attorney's Office

Prosecutors have charged a Saudi Arabian princess with one count of human trafficking in the first forced labor case to be prosecuted in Orange County under California’s Proposition 35.

Meshael Alayban, 42, allegedly hired a Kenyan woman to work as a domestic servant in Saudi Arabia but then held the woman against her will, eventually bringing her to Orange County, said O.C. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

Alayban is one of the wives of Saudi Arabian Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al Saud, according to a statement from the D.A.'s office.

Rackauckas said the case represents the first prosecution in Orange County under voter-approved Prop 35, which increased penalties for human trafficking starting in June of last year.

The Kenyan woman, referred to by prosecutors only as Jane Doe, reportedly sought work at an employment agency in Kenya when her 7-year-old daughter became very ill. There she agreed to a two-year contract with Alaban's family in Saudi Arabia. Under the contract, she agreed to work five days a week, eight hours a day, and get $1600 a month, Rackauckas said.

Instead, when she arrived in Saudi Arabia, Alayban reportedly confiscated her passport and had her working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for a fraction of the agreed-upon wages. Alayban temporarily returned the passport in order to get Jane Doe into the United States. In Irvine, Alayban allegedly confiscated the passport again, and Doe was working under the same conditions she had before.

"Of course, that's a definition of human trafficking — being held against your will and coerced to work," Rackauckas said.

The Kenyan woman flagged down help on Tuesday after she managed to escape. She got on a bus in Irvine and said she was a victim of human trafficking. She was carrying a pamphlet from the U.S. State Department in Saudi Arabia that warned of human trafficking. A woman on the bus helped her get in touch with Irvine police. Federal agents arrested Alayban on Wednesday morning.

"She's the lady that did all the conduct of taking the passport and requiring the work and so forth, and so we don't have any information that anyone else was actually hands on in terms of it being the employer or the slave driver, so that's what we have on her," Rackauckas said.

At a hearing on Wednesday, the judge was briefed on the circumstances of the case and raised the bail from $1 million to $5 million, further requiring Alayban wear a GPS device and not leave Orange County if she made bail, because she was deemed a flight risk, Rackauckas said. But, he added, Alayban's attorney said he thought she would likely be bailed out by Thursday.

Alayban faces a maximum sentence of 12 years if convicted.