The Hong Kong employers of a Filipino domestic helper who plunged to her death from a building in Shenzhen last month were arrested on Thursday on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud.
They were released on bail and will have to report to police in mid-September in a case that has raised concerns about employers taking their helpers to work outside the city illegally.
The 47-year-old man, identified only by his surname, Gu, and his wife surnamed Liu, 32, both Hong Kong residents,were arrested at police headquarters in Wan Chai.
“They were suspected to have made a false statement to the relevant government department, claiming that the female foreign domestic helper employed by them would work in Hong Kong only,” a police spokesman said.
Lorain Asuncion, 28, fell from a building in Shenzhen on July 24 after it was claimed her employers sent her to work there at a relative’s home.
Rights groups said there was a growing trend of employers putting their helpers to work outside the city, often against the helpers’ will, breaching contracts requiring them to work only at a designated address in Hong Kong.
The Immigration Department referred the woman’s death to police as a “suspected case of human-trafficking”.
Holly Allan, director of support group HELP for Domestic Workers, said the employers’ arrests “showed authorities were taking the matter seriously”.
Allan noted that advocates have called for Hong Kong to introduce anti-human trafficking laws to penalise labour trafficking.
“I think this is a case in which such laws could have been effective in combating the problem,” she said.
In the absence of such legislation, Allan said, authorities often used a piecemeal approach in dealing with labour trafficking, using charges such as false representation.
“Often it is the workers themselves who areprosecuted for breach of conditions of stay and false representation,” she said.
“We have assisted domestic workers, who were forced by their employers to work outside the terms of their contract, and who ended up being criminalised.
This time, it’s the employer being investigated. We hope the arrest would serve as a deterrent.”
Vice-consul Alex Vallespin at the Philippine consulate had not been told early yesterday about the couple’s arrest.
“Of course we welcome actions that might lead to the resolution of the issue,” hesaid.
The Sunlight Employment Agency, which processed Asuncion’s work contract in the city, said in an email that the employer told them she had “passed away in mainland China in a suspected suicide case”.
The agency then told the family, and two of the helper’s relatives flew to the city.
“We were told that she jumped,” Asuncion’s sister Jenevieve Javier, 29, said earlier. “But we think the death of my sister is very suspicious. We want to know what happened and have justice.”
Asuncion’s relatives said she had been taken to the mainland about four times since October 2016.
“Last time, she was even more afraid because she would not be with her real employer,” Susan Escorial, Asuncion’s aunt, said. – SCMP