Anti-human trafficking police are seeking the arrest of prominent Cham Muslim community leader and former Social Affairs Ministry official Ahmad Yahya for sending roughly 20 women to Saudi Arabia to work as maids more than a decade ago, after arresting his nephew last week.
In a statement posted to its website on Friday, the National Police accused Yahya and his nephew, Ismail Pin Osman, of forging documents to send then-16-year-old Sos Rotors to the gulf state to work as a maid.
Pol Pithey, the anti-human trafficking chief, and Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Ly Sophana could not be reached yesterday.
Yahya, when reached yesterday, denied that Pin Osman had ever worked for his recruitment agency and said the allegations are part of a smear campaign orchestrated by his political rival, Ministry of Labour Secretary of State Othsman Hassan.
“They create the problems, they spread the bad news and they make a bad reputation for me,” Yahya said.
He added that police have been watching his home since Friday afternoon but that he was in “a safe place”.
Yahya, who was fired from his job at the Ministry of Social Affairs last year after the allegations came to light, has repeatedly maintained that Rotors lied about her age. Last year, after she was rescued, Rotors herself had defended Yahya as a “good-hearted man” and said she had approached him for the job.
Last week’s arrest warrant for Pin Osman cites a complaint from Rotors’s mother. Rotors could not be reached for comment yesterday. Eng Pov, the second maid from Yahya’s company to be rescued from Saudi Arabia, said that she was “pretty sure” Pin Osman was among the two recruiters who came to her village in early 2004.
“I remember Ismail told us he was the nephew of Yahya and accompanied me to make a passport and go to the Poipet border and Bangkok,” she said. “If he wasn’t working for Yahya’s company, how could he do that?”
Pov, who was subjected to slave-like conditions by her employers in Saudi Arabia for a decade, said she has filed a separate complaint against Yahya for financial compensation.
Yahya was insistent, however, that Pin Osman was too busy at his job making licence plates at the Ministry of Public Works to help him with the recruiting agency. He also said he had personally accompanied the maids to the Thai border himself, before they flew to Saudi Arabia.
“If they came to stay at my house before they went to Thailand, they may have met Ismail there, I agree 100 percent,” Yahya said. “But [he] went to the village? No.”
“This story is not true,” he added. “I swear to Allah. I swear to God.”
Labour rights advocates have expressed concern about the government’s plans to send more maids to Malaysia, Hong Kong and the Middle East in light of Rotors’s and Pov’s experiences, as well as widespread reports of abuse and mistreatment in the countries.
Anti-trafficking NGO Chab Dai spokesman Joseph Arnold said it is important for accused traffickers to be investigated and, if convicted, made to pay compensation to victims.
“It builds faith for Cambodians that the system works,” Arnold said.
When reached yesterday, Hassan said Yahya was being investigated not only for sending underage girls, but also for sending them without a licence from the Ministry of Labour.
However, Yahya has long maintained that he had permission from the government, even producing a copy of a 2005 prakas titled “permission to allow (Accept Group) to select, train, send and manage Cambodian labourers to work in Saudi Arabia” signed by then-Minister of Labour Nheb Bun Chhin as proof.