Dr. Boutros Bou Younes: Slaveholder, Owes $33,500 to Former Worker

Sonam Moktan, Nepali, came to Lebanon in early 2007 to work for brothers Boutros and Ghassan Bou Younes. Boutros was her employer, but she was handed over directly to his brother, Ghassan. She ended up enslaved for a period of 10 years. In her decade in Lebanon, she is alleged to have faced both physical and sexual abuse. She worked tirelessly, without any holidays or breaks. Her employers did not provide basic items such as clothing and sanitary protection. They told her that her entire family had died in the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. She had almost no contact with them for ten years.

THE DOCUMENTARY

See Sonam's family tell the story of the abuse by Dr. Boutros and Ghassan Bou Younes from her hometown in Nepal.

THE STORY

Sonam Moktan, a Nepali woman, arrived in Lebanon in early 2007 and was sent to work for Boutros (Peter) Bou Younes, of Main Road, Jbeil (Byblos). Her employer was a urology specialist. He also has his own vineyard, Chateau Wadih. Boutros took possession of Sonam and gave her to his unmarried brother, Ghassan, who kept her as his personal slave until 2017. That’s what brothers do for each other, right? Ghassan lives in Jbeil (Byblos) and imports and sells cars.

During her 10 years In Lebanon, Sonam remitted a mere $4,500 back to Nepal. She says she didn’t return home at all in a decade because her owners didn’t want to send her. She called home rarely – and when she did, it had to be in secrecy when no one was at home. Sonam had no contact with her family for years and did not even know that her father her died in an earthquake in 2015.

“Sonam had no contact with her family for years, and didn’t even know her father had died in an earthquake in 2015.”

This Is Lebanon was contacted by Sonam’s concerned family in 2017. Her cousin wrote: “Two months ago when I called her..she informed that she would be sent back to Nepal. And she convinced them to send her to airport..she was taken somewhere else instead of airport..and now she is back in that house. I think she was taken somewhere else which is serious concern.”

When he closed his office and everyone had gone home, that’s when we used to take showers in the WC. After that we would sleep on some small old mattresses full of bedbugs. We would wake up at 6 in the morning and clean the office and the entrance, and go back into our room for the rest of the day. That’s the routine in that office. He employed one Ethiopian girl who was monitoring us. Only she could talk in the room.”

On 6 September 2017, This Is Lebanon wrote to Dr. Boutros (link to letter with breakdown of sum owed) asking him to pay Sonam the $33,500 he owed her and repatriate her by Friday, 15 October 2017 or we would make sure all of Jbeil knew about the family’s dirty secret. He read This Is Lebanon’s messages but did not respond. Boutros’ phone number is 03-407 407. His brother Ghassan’s is 03-442 223 and 09-942 728.

Below are the two conflicting accounts, one from Sonam’s employers and the other from Sonam’s family.

The Bou Younes’: “Sonam’s fine. She likes to live here. If she didn’t like to live here, she would have already left to Nepal. But she likes it here. She has money and everything. She’s very happy.” They added that she was working for the family’s elderly mother in the mountains, and that she has no phone, so there was no way of contacting her.

Sonam’s family: “There was no contact for so very long. But recently, surprisingly she had contact with her cousin, Nita, who works in Lebanon. Sonam told Nita her owner says her passport is lost and sometimes he says she can’t return back to Nepal.”

The Boutros’ alleged that Sonam was so happy working for them that she didn’t want to go home for 10 years, and not even after her father died in an earthquake in 2015. Was she so happy that she didn’t mind not receiving payment since 2013?

This is Lebanon also contacted Rayes Trading, the recruitment agency, for their help. Initially they replied: “I think she is good but I will search (for) her place.” Rayes Trading then stopped responding to several further requests for help.

Why do Lebanese slaveholders go unpunished, while their victims go to prison?

In September, 2017 Boutros brought Sonam into the Nepali consulate. He didn’t know that This Is Lebanon had arranged to speak to her by phone in Nepali. It was only after Sonam spoke to us that she started to believe she might be able to return to Nepal. She had been so manipulated and brainwashed that she had almost lost her mind.

After this, Sonam was held at the General Security Detention Centre in Beirut. Confusingly, on 21 August 2017 Ghassan told This Is Lebanon that she was working for their elderly mother who lived in the mountains and had no phone. You can listen to him here.This despite the fact that Boutros had reported her as a runaway to General Security in June.

On 25 August, This Is Lebanon was contacted by a former neighbor of Sonam’s in Lebanon (now back in Nepal). Below is the message she sent us. She describes Sonam’s brutal living and working conditions, and alleges that Ghassan Bou Younes had previously sexually abused her. Sonam was always seen wearing the same pair of jeans, day in and day out, and the same pair of boots which she wore throughout the year. The friend notes how Sonam wasn’t able to or didn’t have money to buy sanitary protection. Sonam was so afraid of Ghassan Bou Younes finding out that someone was helping her, that she didn’t even want to accept any of the sanitary protection the friend bought for her. When Sonam finally flew back to Nepal on 26 October 2017, on flight Fly Dubai 160, $900 of the $1000 she had on her were taken from her at Beirut Airport. Many questions remain unanswered: who stole Sonam’s money? Why was she deported without being asked to show the receipts for all the years of her unpaid salary? 

THE TIMELINE

Feb 2007

Sonam arrives in Lebanon from Nepal. For the first few years she sends occasional remittances and is in occasional contact with her family. After that, she disappears.

26 April 2009

Sonam remits $400 to her family in Nepal, one of the very few remittances ever to be sent. She signs with her thumbprint as she is illiterate.

April 2015

Massive earthquake in Nepal kills 9,000 people including Sonam’s father. The Bou Younes family tell Sonam that her entire family died.

May 2015

Sanjay, Sonam’s cousin, goes to the consular office in Tripureswar, Nepal, to seek help but receives no assistance.

June 2015

Sanjay goes to the GEFONT (General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions) office to seek help but receives no assistance.

Aug 2015

Sanjay goes to the IOM (International Organisation for Migration) office to seek help but receives no assistance.

Nov 2016

KAFA, a Lebanese NGO assisting victims of abuse and violence, are called into an investigation at General Security. In the presence of only Lebanese, despite the assurances of KAFA that they could help her, Sonam denies any abuse and says she is happy with the Bou Younes family. Boutros reports that her passport is lost and he is negotiating with the Nepali Consulate in Cairo to get her a laissez-passer to allow her to travel.

Througout 2016

Sujana, a Nepali community leader and activist who was in Lebanon at the time, wrote: “I have all documents of her when I was Lebanon I search so much I ask to help kata, fenasol, even I send details to Cairo embassy.”

14 June 2017

Dr. Boutros Bou Younes’ files a report with General Security reporting that Sonam has run away.

21 Aug 2017

 This Is Lebanon posts about Sonam on Facebook. Ghassan Bou Younes responds by sending a voice message to This Is Lebanon via WhatsApp saying that Sonam is in the mountains, working for his mother. You can listen to that here. The brothers’ stories are contradictory.

25 Aug 2017

This Is Lebanon is contacted by a former neighbor of Sonam’s in Lebanon, who says: “That girl is depressed..she doesn’t sleep, she works on everything even washing the cars, cleaning the compound and weeding the garden. We suspect that he sexually abused her, because there was a time she was walking funny. She needs help.” The friend went on to describe how Sonam’s employer wouldn’t even pay for or allow her to buy sanitary towels, and Sonam was so afraid of him that she wouldn’t accept any sanitary towels from the friend in case Ghassan Bou Younes found out. She described how Sonam only had a single pair of jeans, which she washed every night, and a pair of boots which she wore every day, including in summer.

5 Sep 2017

The Bou Younes’ bring Sonam into the Nepali Honorary Consulate where Dipendra Uprety (founder of This Is Lebanon) is able to speak to her, via phone, in Nepali (which is not her native language). She tells Dipendra that she is happy and has received her full salary. It is obvious to Dipendra that she is afraid and speaking under duress. She has no idea what her salary even is.

6 Sep 2017

This Is Lebanon writes to Boutros Bou Younes, Sonam’s employer,  asking him to pay Sonam her salary and compensation for her enslavement. It comes to a total of $33,500.

17 Sep 2017

This is Lebanon posts the clip on Facebook of Sonam’s family begging for her release. Also on this date, the Bou Younes’ once again bring Sonam into the Nepali Honorary Consulate. Dipendra (founder of This Is Lebanon) and his wife, Priya, are able to speak to Sonam and eventually Priya is able to convince her that there is hope for her to return to Nepal.

Between 17 Sep - 26 Oct 2017

Sonam is taken into detention. She does not know where she was held.

26 Oct 2017

Sonam flies home to Nepal. $900 of the $1000 she was given in ‘full and final settlement’ for her 10 years of enforced labour is stolen from her by officials at Beirut International Airport.

26 Oct 2017

This Is Lebanon posts a video from Sonam’s family thanking the This Is Lebanon team for getting her home. They confirm that she only sent about $4500 the whole time she was away (receipts were lost in the earthquake in which Sonam’s father died).

30 Oct 2017

Caritas carry out an ‘investigation’ and conclude that Sonam received her full salary as per police report.

July 2019 - Present

The Nepali country leader for This Is Lebanon reports that Sonam is still mentally ill, afraid of police and unable to talk to strangers or hold down a job. The psychological damage is entirely the result of her slavery in Lebanon.

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