A Taiwanese official currently detained in Missouri on charges of mistreating her housekeeper should not be able to receive diplomatic immunity, a US State Department spokesman said Monday.
While Taiwanese representatives in the United States enjoy a “status similar to that of consular officers,” diplomatic immunity only applies to “acts performed within the scope of her authorised functions,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.
Hsien-Hsien Liu, director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City, Missouri, was arrested and charged with foreign labour fraud Thursday after allegedly treating her Filipino housekeeper like a slave.
US prosecutors said Liu took away the woman’s passport, told her she was not allowed to leave the house without permission, made her work 16 to 18 hour days at a quarter of the agreed wages, monitored her with video surveillance cameras and “restricted when she could sleep.”
Liu also allegedly told the woman that if she “acted out, she would be deported” because Liu was “friends with local law enforcement and known well in the community,” charging papers said.
The woman eventually escaped after seeking help from a Filipino man she met at the grocery store.
It was at least the second time Liu had mistreated a housekeeper, prosecutors allege.
The previous housekeeper “went into a state of depression and stopped eating” as a result of the physical and verbal abuse, prosecutors said citing testimony by an unnamed witness who works as a director at the Kansas City office.
US prosecutors have urged the federal judge overseeing the case to order Liu held without bail pending trial.
In a six-page court filing, they argued that she poses a flight risk and is also a “potential threat against the witnesses.”
They argued that the offense is a violent crime because it “involved threats, fraud, and coercion against the victim” and noted that Liu took steps to have the housekeeper located and deported after she “had to escape from the confines of the defendant.”
The two employees at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office who provided statements against Liu “are also afraid of the defendant,” prosecutors said.
The matter will be discussed at a detention hearing Wednesday.
Her lawyer said that while it is too early in the case to dispute the actual charges, he was hopeful the matter would be resolved shortly.
“There have been some open discussions and I think the case will ultimately be decided in such a way that everybody’s interest are taken care of,” James Wirken told AFP.
“That also involves the alleged victim,” he said, noting that restitution could be part of a potential settlement or plea arrangement.
Discussions with the prosecution about a potential deal have been rendered more complex because of the involvement of the US State Department and Taiwanese authorities, he added.
Liu faces up to five years in jail if convicted of the single charge of fraud in foreign labour contracting. She has not yet entered a plea, nor have the charges been presented to a grand jury.
A spokesman for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative did not immediately return requests for comment.
The Taipei mission, which has several offices around the United States, serves as a de facto embassy but Washington does not recognise Taiwan as a sovereign nation. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province. -By Mira Oberman