Eight princesses are facing trial after they were accused of trafficking servants into Belgium and treating them in an “inhumane” way.
Princess Sheikha al-Nahyan and her seven daughters, from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), travelled to Belgium regularly and brought with them at least 20 servants, all women, to wait on them hand and foot 24 hours a day.
One servant went to the police after escaping from the luxury suite in the Conrad Hotel in Brussels where the princesses were staying in 2008.
She claimed her and her peers were working long hours, sometimes without enough food, did not have beds to sleep on and were not in possession of visas, Deutsche Welle reports.
Belgian police launched an investigation and found the women were living in “inhumane conditions”.
The eight princesses have now been accused of violating labour laws and human trafficking.
The case could have far-reaching consequences, not least because the al-Nahyan family is one of the most influential families in the UAE.
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, is the owner of Manchester City football club.
According to the German broadcaster, the royal’s family lawyers claimed the police violated the princesses’ rights by searching their hotel room and a nine-year legal battle followed.
Speaking to Deutsche Welle, Patricia LeCocq, spokeswoman for Belgian human rights organisation Myria, said: “The servants were not paid, they worked day and night and had to sleep on the floor. The princesses shouted at them and abused them continually.”
She said the Belgian court had the chance to set a precedent.
“If the court decides there is enough evidence to support a charge of human trafficking, the accused may have to pay compensation to their employees and may even face a prison sentence.
“But the problem is that this case is already several years old. Even if the princesses are convicted, chances are the verdict could be very mild,” she said.