Saturday, November 19, 2011

Our man in Kansas City: The Liu case in the US

By now you've all heard the story of Liu Hsien-hsien, the diplomat from Taiwan now charged under US labor laws with abusing her Filipino housekeeper. Here's a summary from a Kansas City paper.
Prosecutors charged Liu, 64, last week with fraud in foreign labor contracting. Authorities alleged that Liu brought a housekeeper from the Philippines, took her passport, stole her wages, threatened her with deportation and kept her in virtual isolation in Liu’s Overland Park home.

Though white-collar defendants usually ask for bond, Wirken said Liu opted to remain in jail because she hopes to have her case resolved in the time it would take to raise the bail money and make arrangements for her release.

Should Liu’s case remain open, Wirken said he likely would ask for a new bond hearing.

One issue that has entangled the case in recent days is the question of whether Liu has any kind of diplomatic immunity because of her work for the government of Taiwan, which the U.S. does not recognize as a sovereign state.

U.S. officials and the Taiwanese government disagree as to the immunity question, Wirken said, but he quickly took that question off the table.

“She doesn’t really have full diplomatic privileges,” Wirken said.

Though Wirken said he would be prepared to fully litigate that issue, he said a better resolution would be to dispose of the case quickly without going to that trouble.

An article Wednesday in the Taipei Times noted that officials there had backed away from a demand that Liu be released immediately, claiming full diplomatic immunity. Government officials there said that the scope of Liu’s immunity was unclear under a treaty they signed with the United States in the 1970s when Washington severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
The paper cites a reporter from CTI, the pro-KMT station, as saying:
“It takes away all the attention,” Zang said. “If the government is seen as weak and not offering support to its diplomats, the voters won’t like that.”
I'm not sure I agree with this statement. Liu's behavior is not popular here. Portnoy, one of Taiwan's most well known bloggers, collected and translated a few typical statements at Global Voices a few days ago:
1. I guess in many people's minds, the US represents the global human rights standard. But until this moment, Taiwanese is yet to learn from the US legal system how to treat foreign labor correctly. This is an unbelievably absurd drama beyond description.

2. According to overseas reports, Hsien-Hsien Liu, the director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City, was accused of abusing labor and fraud by forcing her Philippine housekeeper to work overtime and paying her only 1/3 of her wage, and therefore was arrested by the FBI. The Minister of Foreign Affairs Chin-tien Yang admitted this case and expressed a solemn protest: Since what Liu did is nothing but following the tradition of Taiwanese employers, the US should respect it.

3. It is said that Liu's housekeeper was hired for official purposes, but since the contracted monthly wage is $US 1240, while the housekeeper got only $US 450, where is the missing $790? Liu can either choose to admit that she hired her privately or admit that she has committed corruption.
There's more there, go and look. But overall the response in the media and on the net has been strongly in support of the US position. My own view is that if the government moves to protect Liu it could look as if the KMT were giving one of its own the usual insider privileges.  Note also Comment 3 asks the question that everyone has ignored -- where is the missing money, the difference between what the maid is contracted for and what she is actually paid? Either it is in someone's pocket, or it never existed -- which means the accountants have to be in on this at some level, or perhaps there are multiple contracts, etc. The mind boggles.

FocusTaiwan, the GIO organ, collected a set of editorials from local newspapers of all political stripes here. Note that all of them are critical of certain government actions and all affirm that the US would not have arrested her without good evidence. Entirely absent is any sense that "our" diplomats need to be protected, regardless. The staidly pro-KMT China Times offers the testimony of another consular official. Though her contract stipulated US $1200 a month....
Another senior consular official, who had worked at the Kansas City office for more than two years was quoted as confirming that he was told by Liu to pay the maid only US$220 every two weeks, plus told by Liu to pay the maid only US$220 every two weeks, plus US$70 for grocery purchases -- far below the contracted amount.
This behavior was apparently known at the consulate in KC. The UDN piece offers a glimpse of the backstory office politics that may be driving some of the case against her. Apparently Taiwanese officials testified to the FBI without checking with their government first, or so foreign minister Yang claims....
While Yang accused the three of "acting unethically" by testifying against Liu, he also lamented that Liu "has been too harsh on her colleagues and has treated people too badly."
It looks like Liu had no supporters at the office when the FBI came down. A lesson for all of us.
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10 comments:

Anonymous said...

One thing I found really interesting is that US law enforcement are not usually visible, but most of the time they just show up out of nowhere at the right time.

George

Jenna Cody said...

A tradition of Taiwanese employers? I am sure people have examples to the contrary but generally speaking I have not heard of this level of mistreatment being a huge issue in Taiwan (yes, I am sure it happens, but I mean I am not aware of it being such a widespread problem that someone would actually say "all Taiwanese employers do this so we should stay out of it"). If it is an issue, it's something I'd definitely blog about because most domestic workers are women and I do try to focus on women's issues.

I was more aware of it being a big problem in Dubai, where the main culprits are actually foreign (ie British, Australian, American) families who confiscate passports and require 24-7 work.

Thoth Harris said...

Jenna, it is a well known problem in this area of the world, be it Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, etc. Whole dissertations have been written about it (I'm thinking of one I specifically read, which was about Philippine housekeepers in Hong Kong. The governments' policies protect employers, but does nothing to penalize bad players who are reported, be they agents (who frequently hold domestic labourers passports, money, etc.), employers, etc.

FOARP said...

The US at least has a record of generally well-established rule of law and democratic practice, but who, especially after the past decade, still believes that "the US represents the global human rights standard"?

Jenna Cody said...

I know that it is also a problem in Hong Kong (although Dubai seems to be the worst)...but "this area of the world" is pretty big and pretty densely populated. If it's an issue in Taiwan specifically, I'll have to look into it.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Jenna. Wherever the problem lies, isn't this "abuse the servant" mentality an aspect of some hierarchic, caste societies - still found in Asia, Africa and the Middle East - which puts some servants at the bottom rung of society?

Unknown said...

It's specious to try to shift the problem to Hong Kong. After all, no Hong Kong official has been arrested in the U.S.for enslaving servants.

This is a Taiwan problem.

Darryl said...

I find the idea that this is not a problem in Taiwan laughable. I've known several Taiwanese with foreign caregivers and never seen any who treated them like a human being, or would hesitate to make them work on their 1 day off a week, etc. She should be sentenced to a year of 16 hour days cleaning toilets in Manila.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, the Liu case is a "Chinese" problem, rather than a "Taiwan" probelm.

Ms. Liu belongs to the ruling class in Taiwan who identify themselves as Chinese rather than as Taiwanese. These Chinese people, led by late dictator Chiang Kai-shek, brutally suppressed the Taiwanese uprising in the "228 Massacre" in 1949, before Chiang was defeated by the Communist and fled to Taiwan.

As a result, these Chinese in Taiwan is notorious for racial discrimination against not just the local Taiwanese but all other non-Chinese people.

Furthermore, Ms. Liu was promoted to her current rank in part because of her being a "patriotic youth" in her earlier age. She was said to have given up her U.S. Green Card and return to Taiwan to serve in the authoritarian regime under Chiang's son in 1980s.

It is no surprise that Ms. Liu would treat her maid so badly. In fact, another Chinese, a legislator Elmer Fong in Taiwan, was accused of raping his Filipino maid. Fong was able to get off without being punished by using his political influences.

Anonymous said...

Darryl, you are so right. Brutal treatment,exploitation, slave conditions, greed are innate to the Taiwanese-Chinese mentality and culture with only very few exceptions and I know some. The expression "Chinese torture" says it all.Western labor law and employee-employer interdependence are incomprehensible and unthinkable for the Taiwanese-and Chinese.The crushing of the lower employee is the norm there. Not surprised, as Jenna said, that gross mistreatment of house maids and lower staff takes place in countries of the Far and Middle East.This disregard for human dignity and human rights is characteristic of all backward societies such as in those countries who have "stone age" mentality regarding the rights of the weak. Hsien-hsien Liu of TECO in Kansas City USA was not "touched" by the US social and labor environment and law in her long stay in the States and behaved as in her country, Taiwan, as most Taiwanese staff in such offices throughout the world do. I have PERSONAL EXPERIENCE about that.As the Liu case in Kansas City broke out and gets more publicity, more such cases will come to light.There are many "Hsien-hsien Liu's" in Taiwanese offices around the world who do no honor their word, their signature and their promise. Very often cheating the employee even a
few cents. And they NEVER learn their lesson. Anything for the money, any amount. The easiest target is the local staff with the blessings of their home office (MOFA). Proof of that is the fact that MOFA Timothy Yang tried to cover and justify Liu's beastly treatment of two Filipino maids. Instead of giving her instantly the boot, saving this way his country's dignity, he tried to justify the unjustifiable. Apparently in MOFA in Taipei they have not heard of the basic human value that"all men are created equal". Taiwan refers to this basic human value every time they plea for international recognition, but they forget to apply it to their subordinate employees. They can not comprehend that this principle does not allow for ruthless, brutal treatment and exploitation by squeezing to death another person who needs a job. Furthermore,Yang angrily criticized two lower staff in Liu's office who testified the truth to the FBI. This is another common practice in MOFA staff. The one who reports an irregularity gets in trouble, Not the perpetrator. If Taiwan wants to be treated like a free, democratic, qualified member (as it claims it is)of the international community, Taiwan must learn to behave like one. By any western standards, Hsien-hsien Liu of TECO in Kansas City is a ruthless anthropoid tyrant and beast, a "snake" who lived in an affluent part of the city at the cost of the Taiwanese people. We do not know if she saved any money for the Taiwanese people as we do not know what exactly she did with the salary difference she did not pay to the Filipino maids. My guess is she pocketed it, but we will never find out because MOFA has taken up the case now and they know how to protect their staff. She had fooled some local officials about her character, keeping her true character well hidden. She went to many social functions, took photos with many local public officials, with her "teacher-type" glasses and her phony smile, she was so believable. Because of her position none in their wildest dreams could possible suspect what she really was. A ruthless tyrant. She drove another maid to depression and anorexia and, according to MOFA Timothy Yang "she was too harsh with her colleagues and has treated people badly". This statement of the Minister proves all the above about her, yet he tried to get her off the hook. I would not be surprised if he gave her a medal for having triggered re-negotiation of diplomatic immunity relations with the US. But I got news for him. The US is not Solomon Islands, Belize or Tongo.