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Taiwan envoy jailed in US for abusing Filipino maid

/ 09:02 AM November 13, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Missouri—US prosecutors have jailed a Taiwanese official on a felony labor violation involving her Filipino housekeeper—a charge experts say has rarely, if ever, been applied to a foreign official.

Hsien-Hsien Liu, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (Teco) in Kansas City, is accused of vastly underpaying the woman from the Philippines, restricting when she could sleep and making her work 16 to 18 hours a day.

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Liu, 64, was arrested on Thursday and charged with fraud in foreign labor contracting, which is punishable by up to five years in federal prison. She was held without bond until a hearing on Wednesday. Court records do not list an attorney for her.

Teco’s main office in Washington did not respond to phone and e-mail messages left on Friday seeking comment. Its website said the office was closed on Friday in observance of Veterans Day.

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Prosecutors said Liu’s office maintains unofficial relations between the United States and Taiwan and is similar to a foreign government consulate, although the US doesn’t recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state.

‘Novel circumstance’

Prosecutors in Kansas City told The Kansas City Star that Liu was believed to be the first foreign official to face this charge in the United States. While others had been prosecuted for mistreating domestic workers, Liu was accused of violating a law covering the recruitment of foreign workers and their transport into the US on fraudulent terms, prosecutors said.

Michael LeRoy, a labor law professor at the University of Illinois, said he wasn’t aware of that specific charge being used previously against a foreign official and Liu’s case “represents a novel circumstance.”

An FBI affidavit filed in the case claimed Teco recruited the housekeeper in the Philippines in September 2011. According to the Filipino woman’s visa application, her two-year employment contract called for her to be paid $1,240 a month, work 40-hour weeks and be entitled to overtime.

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Prosecutors claimed the Filipino woman was actually paid $400 to $450 a month, worked 16- to 18-hour days and was monitored with video surveillance equipment. They also said Liu took the woman’s passport and was “verbally abusive.”

Liu, who is also known as Jacqueline Liu, told the Filipino woman “she was friends with local law enforcement and known well in the community” and if the woman “acted out, she would be deported,” the affidavit said.

Authorities learned about the situation after the woman complained to a Filipino man she met in a grocery store. Prosecutors said he helped her leave Liu’s home in August.

No diplomatic immunity

Kurt Taylor Gaubatz, an international studies professor at Old Dominion University in Virginia, said it was unlikely Liu would qualify for diplomatic immunity in the case.

“There have been several stories about diplomatic abuse of household help both in the US and abroad, and the critical issue is what level (she is),” Gaubatz said. “If you’re an ambassador and you beat your domestic help, diplomatic immunity is going to get you off.”

Gaubatz said Liu might have qualified for immunity if the charges were somehow related to her job, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

“Lawyers are going to say that in order to maintain the duties of a consular officer, they need domestic help,” he said. “But frankly, I don’t see that going very far.”

Linda Trout, executive director of Kansas City’s International Relations Council, said Liu announced last month that she was returning to Taiwan.

“She was very accommodating. We had a good relationship,” Trout said. “She told me more than a month ago she had been reassigned back to Taiwan. She told me it was because of the number of years she had been out of Taiwan and the office wanted her back.”

Liu’s planned departure was posted on Teco’s website in October.

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TAGS: Filipino maid, Hsien-Hsien Liu, Kansas City, Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (Teco), Taiwanese abuse
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