WASHINGTON — A State Department official on Thursday said the agency was unsure of the legal status of the Saudi diplomat from whose compound in Virginia two women thought to be human trafficking victims were removed on Wednesday.
Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesman for the agency, said that he was not sure whether diplomats accused of a crime were automatically protected by diplomatic immunity or whether they have to assert it in order for it to protect them.
"I'd have to ask a lawyer on that," he said in response to a question from a reporter at the daily press briefing.
Ventrell said that the State Department was working with the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security in the case, and that Diplomatic Security agents were helping with the investigation in "very close collaboration with our DHS colleagues." ICE has taken the lead on the investigation, Ventrell said.
"I'm not sure if they were on the scene but they've been in close contact with DHS," Ventrell said. "It's DS and our Office of Foreign Missions."
BuzzFeed reported on Wednesday that the Saudi embassy said the compound in McLean, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, belongs to the Saudi military attaché.
DHS removed two women from the premises on Wednesday morning because of information that indicated they had been trafficked. CNN reported that the two women are originally from the Philippines and were brought over to work at the Saudi embassy.
A DHS official said no new updates on the investigation were available on Thursday.