Saudi linguist charged in Colorado slavery case clears initial hurdle for transfer home

DENVER - A Saudi linguist convicted of sexually assaulting a housekeeper and keeping her a virtual slave for four years in Colorado has cleared initial administrative hurdles to be transferred to Saudi Arabia under a United States treaty with that country.

Homaidan al-Turki’s application to serve the remainder of his sentence in Saudi Arabia cleared reviews by prison officials and is awaiting final approval by Colorado Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements, department spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti said Friday. The foreign national offender transfer application would then undergo a federal review, and if approved, al-Turki would be sent to Saudi Arabia.

Authorities say that Al-Turki and his wife brought the Indonesian housekeeper to Colorado to care for their five children and to cook and clean. However, an affidavit said the woman spent four years with the family, sleeping on a mattress on the basement floor and getting less than $2 a day.

Al-Turki was convicted in 2006 of unlawful sexual contact by use of force, theft and extortion -- all felonies -- as well as misdemeanor counts of false imprisonment and conspiracy to commit false imprisonment. He was sentenced to 28 years to life in prison. The U.S. attorney’s office dropped similar federal charges.

A judge in 2011 reduced al-Turki’s minimum sentence by 20 years, based on a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that makes al-Turki eligible for parole this year.

State prosecutors who opposed reducing al-Turki’s sentence did not immediately return messages for comment. Federal prosecutors had no immediate comment.

Al-Turki's wife, Sarah Khonaizan, pleaded guilty to state and federal charges of theft and harboring an illegal immigrant.

Al-Turki says he’s innocent and a victim of anti-Muslim sentiment. He testified at trial that FBI agents persuaded his Indonesian housekeeper to accuse him of imprisoning and sexually assaulting her in his basement after they failed to build a case that he was a terrorist.

Al-Turki was a student at the University of Colorado and a well-known member of Denver’s Muslim community.

His 2006 conviction angered Saudi officials and prompted the U.S. State Department to send Colorado Attorney General John Suthers to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah, Crown Prince Sultan and Al-Turki’s family.

According to court documents, al-Turki first came under investigation when authorities examined whether his operation of a business violated terms of his student visa. Al-Turki owned Al-Basheer Publications & Translations, which distributed Islamic works in English.

Al-Turki’s company holds the copyright to “The Lives of the Prophets,” a CD set of Islamic sermons that tell stories about Muslim prophets recorded by the U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed along with his 16-year-old son in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Al-Awlaki attended Colorado State University in Fort Collins and lived in Denver in the late 1990s.

Federal law enforcement authorities in Denver have declined to say whether it was al-Turki’s relationship with al-Awlaki that brought al-Turki under scrutiny.