The principal suspects in the gruesome murder of overseas Filipino worker Joanna Demafelis in Kuwait more than a year ago are now in the custody of authorities in Lebanon, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Friday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano said he informed President Rodrigo Duterte about the arrest of Nader Essam Assaf, a Lebanese national, who together with his wife Mona, a Syrian national, are the principal suspects in the brutal torture and murder of the 29-year-old domestic helper from Sara, Iloilo.
“The President welcomes the news that Nader Essam Assaf is now in the hands of authorities in Lebanon,” Cayetano said in a statement. “Assaf’s arrest is a critical first step in our quest for justice for Joanna and we are thankful to our friends in Kuwait and Lebanon for their assistance.”
The Philippine Embassy in Kuwait reported the arrest of Assaf to Manila the same day the President visited the wake of Demefelis on Thursday, and assured her family that he would seek justice for her and other overseas Filipino workers being abused by their employers abroad.
Cayetano said that in response to the Demafelis murder, both the DFA and the Department of Labor and Employment are working together to carry out the President’s instructions to ensure that Filipino migrant workers are adequately protected in host countries abroad.
Assaf and his wife have been the subject of an Interpol manhunt after Kuwaiti authorities discovered early this month the battered body of Demafelis inside a freezer in the couple’s abandoned apartment unit, more than a year after her family reported her missing.
Cayetano said Kuwaiti authorities conveyed the arrest of Assaf to Ambassador Renato Villa during a meeting at the Ministry of Interior on Thursday.
In that meeting, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Al-Tarah, Assistant Undersecretary for General Security Affairs, disclosed to Ambassador Villa that Interpol Lebanon had notified Interpol Kuwait that Assaf is now in custody but that his wife is still at large and is believed to be in Syria.
Kuwaiti authorities requested the assistance of Interpol in locating and arresting the couple who they believed fled to Lebanon or Syria shortly after the torture and murder of Demafelis.
The arrest of Assaf also came several days after Cayetano was assured by Kuwaiti Ambassador Mousaed Al-Thwaikh that Kuwaiti authorities will do everything they can to find the suspects and bring them to justice.
Cayetano said he expects Kuwaiti authorities to request the extradition of Assaf so he could stand trial in Kuwait.