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Bangladeshi Diplomat Arrested in 'Disturbing' Abuse Case of Domestic Worker

Md Shaheldul Islam, 45, was arraigned on charges of labor trafficking and assault against his servant from 2012 to 2016.
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A gavel.Ullstein Bild via Getty Images

A senior Bangladeshi diplomat in New York has been indicted on charges of forcing a fellow countryman to work as domestic help without a wage, while subjecting him to "physical force and vile threats."

Md Shaheldul Islam, a 45-year-old deputy consul general, was arraigned Monday in Queens County for labor trafficking, assault and other criminal charges in a case prosecutors describe as "disturbing."

The exploitative working conditions under Islam occurred from 2012 until May 2016, when the worker managed to escape, said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

Related: California Governor Signs Bill Granting Overtime to Domestic Workers into Law

During that time, Islam had control over the man's passport. According to prosecutors, he would strike the man with his hand or a wooden shoe if he felt disobeyed.

The worker's 18-hour work days came with no pay, except when he was tipped by guests during a party and by the "minuscule amount of money" given to his family in Bangladesh, prosecutors said.

Each time the worker asked to leave, Islam would allegedly threaten to kill the man's mother and young son, and have the worker's college-aged daughter "shamed," they added.

The worker finally did break free just over a year ago, and contacted police for help, prosecutors said.

As a consulate officer, Islam is covered by "limited diplomatic immunity," prosecutors said, meaning that potential illegal actions done outside of his official capacity are not exempted. A Queens Supreme Court judge ordered him to surrender his passport, and he remained jailed Tuesday on a $50,000 bond.

Islam allegedly tried to cover up his illegal acts in 2014, just after the high-profile arrest of an Indian diplomat. That diplomat — Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade — was accused of committing visa fraud to hire a foreign housekeeper for her Manhattan home and paying her less than minimum wage. She was eventually granted diplomatic immunity but had to leave the United States.

To make it appear as if the job was legit, Islam took the cash tips given to his worker and then converted them into a check, prosecutors said. The worker than deposited that check into his bank account "thereby creating the appearance that the employee was receiving a paycheck," they added.

Related: Diplomats’ Exploitation of Domestic Workers a ‘Plague,’ Activists Say

"If the allegations are proven to be true, the defendant must be held accountable for these alleged actions," Brown said.

Islam faces a 33-count indictment and up to 15 years in prison if found guilty. His next court appearance was scheduled for June 28.

The Consulate General of Bangladesh in New York did not immediately respond to a request from NBC News for comment.

Human rights groups, meanwhile, are calling on diplomatic officials from Bangladesh and other nations to denounce the mistreatment of domestic workers. Advocates have bemoaned the lack of state or federal statistics to track abuses against them.