MANILA - The principal suspect in the killing of overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Joanna Demafelis in Kuwait is now in the custody of authorities in Lebanon, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced on Friday.
Lebanese national Nader Essam Assaf was arrested Thursday following an Interpol manhunt, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a statement.
Assaf, with his wife Mona, a Syrian national, are the principal suspects in the killing of Demafelis, 29, who had served as their house helper.
Demafelis' body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment in Kuwait earlier this month, more than a year since she went missing. Investigation found signs of torture and abuse.
The suspect's arrest happened on the same day Duterte visited Demafelis' wake in her native Sara, Iloilo.
Cayetano said he has "informed President Duterte about the arrest."
“The President welcomes the news that Nader Essam Assaf is now in the hands of authorities in Lebanon,” Cayetano said. “Assaf’s arrest is a critical first step in our quest for justice for Joanna and we are thankful to our friends in Kuwait and Lebanon for their assistance.”
Assaf and his wife had been the subject of an Interpol manhunt since Demafelis' body was found.
Cayetano said Kuwaiti authorities "conveyed the arrest of Assaf to Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa during a meeting at the Ministry of Interior on Thursday."
Villa called the arrest "a positive development" in the case.
"In that meeting, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Al-Tarah, Assistant Undersecretary for General Security Affairs, disclosed to Ambassador Villa that Interpol Lebanon had notified Interpol Kuwait that Assaf is now in custody but that his wife is still at large and is believed to be in Syria," Cayetano said.
Cayetano said he expects Kuwaiti authorities to request the extradition of Assaf so he could face trial in Kuwait.
Demafelis' slay is one in several OFW deaths that had prompted the Philippine government to enforce a ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait and demand better protection of its workers in the Gulf state.
The government has also initiated a repatriation program for Kuwait-based Filipinos who would like to come home.
More than 250,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, most of them domestic helpers, per DFA figures.