MONROVIA – A former agent of the National Security Agency has gone on trial with his brother for allegedly taking payments from international trafficking agents to mislead young Liberian women into traveling to the Middle Eastern country of Oman where they were to work as domestic servants.
The indictment alleges Arthur Chan-Chan, and his brother Samuel along with others who are not identified “arranged, organized a criminal scheme, under the false pretense of providing employment opportunities and greener pastures for the victims to travel to the Middle East State of Oman.”
By Anthony Stephens with New Narratives
Two women have already been convicted of being involved in trafficking as many as 200 Liberian women to Oman. But Chan-Chan is the first accused perpetrator to have a direct link to the Liberian government.
Experts have long predicted that people inside the government had to have been involved in the scheme which required the women to obtain passports, Omani visas and tickets for international flights. The government’s newly established Anti-Trafficking Unit has vowed to prosecute alleged perpetrators no matter who they may be. The pair will face a minimum 20 years in prison if convicted under Liberia’s tough new anti-trafficking law.
The trial comes at a time Liberia is struggling to find Cephus Selebay, the man authorities believe is the mastermind of the trafficking scheme. Selebay skipped bail shortly after being released despite the fact that two family members who acted as guarantors have been forced to take his place in prison. Law enforcement agencies believe he is outside the country. Criminal Court “A” is hearing Selebay’s case as well as that of the Chan-Chans but Selebay’s case has been suspended pending his re-arrest.
Last week the court granted Selebay’s two guarantors Rev. Francis Kollie, Selebay’s father-in-law and Christiana Gahndolo, his sister, indefinite release from prison as long as they assist in finding him.
The Chan-Chans’ prosecution reflects a new tougher stance by the government on the issue of trafficking. The indictment makes no mention of their relationship with Selebay but details a pattern of recruitment of alleged victims that is similar to Selebay’s.
The indictment alleges that Samuel Chan-Chan resided in the Persian Gulf state of United Arab Emirates (UAE), which borders Oman, and that the victims “were promised good pay employment opportunities to make $US500 a month as well as receiving free housing and other benefits in the UAE.”
It says each of the trafficking victims paid between $US400 to $US500 to “process their travel documents and agent fees” to Eve Kpedeh, Samuel’s wife, in Monrovia. The indictment alleges the women were deceived because when they arrived at the Roberts International Airport (RIA) “they received their tickets and passports from Co-Defendant Arthur Chan-Chan, for Oman, instead of the UAE.”
The indictment also alleges that before their departure Arthur demanded an extra $US75 from the women “for free passage through the RIA” but that he “converted” it to his personal use. It says he had also deceived the women that he was an immigration officer. Only later did he reveal that he was an NSA agent.
The women Selebay allegedly trafficked to Oman had their passports and other travel documents seized on arrival by local agents. This is the same method applied by Arthur, Samuel, and the alleged network, according to the indictment.
The women “were then subjected to inhuman treatment by individuals they worked for at several places of work.” Numerous women who have been returned from Oman have told FPA/New Narratives that they were subjected to workdays as long as 20 hours with no days off. They complained of being poorly fed and beaten and dehumanized by the “sponsors” who were paying for their services. There is data available for the number of people from poor African and Asian countries who have been trafficked to the Middle East for work but reporting by journalists and human rights groups suggest it is in the millions.
This is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of its Investigating Liberia project. Funding was provided by the US Embassy in Monrovia. The funder had no say in the story’s content.