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Sun 7 Aug 2011 05:05 PM

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Emirati officer acquitted in US maid trafficking trial

Col Al-Ali found not guilty of fraud after judge rejects Filipino maid’s testimony

Emirati officer acquitted in US maid trafficking trial
Col. Arif Mohamed Saeed Mohamed Al-Ali has consistently denied the charges against him

An Emirati naval officer has been acquitted of keeping an unpaid servant in slave-like conditions after a US judge said his former maid’s testimony “doesn’t have a ring of truth”.

Col. Arif Mohamed Saeed Mohamed Al-Ali was found not guilty of fraud in foreign labour contracting just days after being acquitted of lying to a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, reported the Associated Press.

Chief Judge Mary M. Lisi said Elizabeth Cabitla Ballesteros’ testimony, in which she claimed her former boss hadn’t paid her for long hours of cleaning and forced her to sign a document acknowledging her pay, was “exaggerated”.

Al-Ali's story, Lisi said, was “plausible”.

Defense attorney Robert C. Corrente said Ballesteros had concocted her story in an attempt to secure money.

“This woman is a pathological liar who concocted this story to extort him,” the newswire reported him as saying. “Her story on its face was ridiculous. I think it's a disgrace that somebody of his distinction was treated like this.”

Ballesteros’ civil attorney, Ivy O Suriyopas, called the verdict a “gross miscarriage of justice” and said his client would continue with her lawsuit against Al-Ali and his wife, Samah Alharmoodi, in which she is seeking $200,000 in damages.

“The fact that [Lisi] didn’t find it credible that a domestic worker would perform the amount of work that she did for the amount of time that she did demonstrates how out of touch she might be,” he said.

Al-Ali’s attorney Peter F. Neronha said in a statement: “We of course accept and respect Judge Lisi's decision. That said, we believed, and continue to believe, that there was probable cause to bring this case, and that it was important, under these circumstances, to give Ms. Ballesteros an opportunity to be heard.”

Ballesteros told the court last week that she felt  like she was working in a prison for a “master” during her period of employment with Al-Ali. The former maid said she was barred from speaking to outsiders, was forced to work long hours and had her passport confiscated.

Ballesteros, who said she was not paid for her work, had previously told the court Al-Ali had forced her to sign a document falsely affirming she received 12 monthly payments of $1,600.

“I couldn’t take it anymore — my work and the way they were treating me," she said.

Al-Ali, a student at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island, forced her to work seven days a week, often until midnight, without pay and refused to let her leave the house alone, the court was told in an arraignment hearing in April.

Al-Ali had brought the woman to the US in July 2010 to work as a household servant for himself, his wife and his five children.