The employer of a Filipino domestic worker, whose battered body was found in a freezer in Kuwait City, has been arrested.
Nader Essam Assaf is now in custody in his native Lebanon, according to a statement from the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs. Assaf’s wife, Mona, a Syrian, remains at large and is believed to be in Syria.
Philippine officials say the couple are the principal suspects in the brutal torture and killing of 29-year-old Joanna Daniela Demafelis. She travelled to Kuwait in 2014 to work as a maid.
Assaf and his wife have been the subject of an international manhunt after Kuwaiti authorities discovered Demafelis’ body in the freezer earlier this month. It is believed the body could have been stored there for up to a year.
Her family say they lost contact with her in May 2016, about two years after she arrived in the Middle East.
They also said she never mentioned any mistreatment by her employers. However, they suspected she was being watched closely. Demafelis was only able to speak to them three times a year.
During what would be her final phone call home, Demafelis said she planned to come to the Philippines some time this year. But after not hearing from her for a nearly year, Demafelis’ family reported her missing.
Investigators tried to find her through the Kuwaiti agency that recruited her but discovered it had closed down. Police didn’t discover her body until investigators set their sights on her Lebanese employer, who had been accused of fraud.
Kuwait is a popular destination for workers from the Philippines. The Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs said 276,000 Filipino workers were in the country as of last month.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano said in a statement that President Duterte had been informed about Assaf’s arrest. Cayetano said he expects authorities to seek the Lebanese man’s extradition so he can stand trial in Kuwait.
Citing Demafelis’ death and instances of worker abuse, President Duterte has offered free flights home for the 10,000 or so Filipinos who have overstayed their visas. He has also ordered a ban on the further deployment of workers to Kuwait.