hat tip-Margo I.
By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels
Last updated: 8:27 PM BST 02/07/2008
The Daily Telegraph (London)
Seventeen women have been taken by police from a luxury hotel in Brussels amid allegations that they had been enslaved by an Arab royal family.
Police officers and officials from Belgium’s Labour Audit Authority raided the Conrad Hotel, the city’s most prestigious and the preferred choice of many national leaders during European Union summits, on Tuesday evening.
The operation was triggered by the apparent escape of a maid who was among 20 servants working for the widow of a senior royal figure from the United Arab Emirates and her four daughters who have rented the entire fourth floor of the hotel for the last year.
Officials took away 17 people, from countries including the Philippines, Morocco, India, Egypt, Turkey, Iraq and Syria, amid allegations they had been held captive for eight months.
Several members of the royal party have been questioned, police said yesterday. No charges have been brought but the investigation continues.
“We are convinced that these 17 girls are victims of people trafficking,” said an official.
The servants, dubbed “slaves” in the Belgian media, allegedly had to be at the service of the Arab royals 24 hours a day and had their passport taken away on arrival in Belgium. The women were reportedly not allowed to leave the hotel and their monthly salaries were as low as £80 a month.
“We were not allowed to leave the hotel and we had to be at their disposal 24 hours a day,” claimed one young woman of Middle Eastern origin.
“We were not allowed to complain or to ask any questions. We just had to be there at their beck and call.”
Last week four maids from the Philippines allegedly attempted to escape from the hotel. Three were detained by the royal family’s security staff but the fourth woman managed to alert the Belgian police.
There was no response last night from the Brussels embassy of the UAE when it was contacted to comment on the case.
Most Belgian newspapers have described the case as “slavery right in the heart of Brussels”.
The chic and pricy Conrad Hotel, “where you can discover the luxury of being yourself”, is situated on the city’s Avenue Louise and surrounded by the most expensive shops in Brussels.
The price of a room begins at £260 and a hotel spokesman, who refused to comment on the raid, was unable to give the cost of renting an entire floor.
The hotel’s website boasts: “The largest, most sophisticated luxury hotel guestrooms in Brussels, an unrivalled guest service commitment and the unparalleled cuisine of our hotel restaurant all come together at the Conrad Brussels.”
The hotel is frequented by Europe’s royals and national leaders, including British Prime Ministers, during trips to Brussels and for EU summits.
In a separate case in Gevena involving a senior figure from the UAE, Sheikh Fallah bin Zayed Al-Nahayan, the brother of the president has been found guilty and fined after using his belt to beat an American man who he thought had suggested he was gay.