SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Prosecutors on Friday dropped a human-trafficking case that was brought against a Saudi princess this summer after a Kenyan maid alleged her passport had been taken away and she had been forced to work long hours for meager pay.
The surprise announcement came in what had been expected to be the arraignment of Meshael Alayban, 42, on a charge punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told the judge that investigators tried to corroborate the allegations in the case but found the evidence did not support the charges. Rackauckas then moved to dismiss the case.
Alayban smiled when her attorney, Paul Meyer, said, "You are free."
Another attorney in the case, Jennifer Keller, thanked the district attorney for "being a man of integrity" on behalf of Alayban's family and the nation of Saudi Arabia.
Prosecutors initially said Alayban took the maid's passport after the royal family traveled to the Southern California city of Irvine, and paid her a fraction of what she was promised.
The maid left Alayban's Irvine condominium in July, got on a bus and told a passenger she escaped, authorities said. The passenger helped her contact police, who searched the condo where Alayban and her family were staying.
Alayban and her attorneys had likened the issue to a contract dispute and said the maid and her counterparts were treated well.
"The nannies traveled to the U.S. on $10,000 first-class tickets," said a statement read by Alayban's attorneys outside a July hearing. "These women had cellphones, Internet, Facebook, and the family even bought cable in their native language for them. They enjoyed full use of the spa, gym and pool and were often dropped off to shop alone at neighborhood malls, all paid for by the family."
At the time, the district attorney had likened the circumstances to slavery.
Alayban had been free on $5 million in bail posted by the Saudi Consulate.