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Indonesian maids concoct slavery stories

A defense attorney claimed that two Indonesian maids who say they were abused and forced into servitude by a New York millionaire couple had concocted many of the stories they told U.S. prosecutors.

"Nobody saw anything except what Enung and Samira wanted them to see," attorney Stephen Scaring said in closing arguments at the trial of Indonesian-born Varsha Mahender Sabhnani and her husband, Indian-born Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani.

The Sabhnanis, accused of forcing the housekeepers to work 18 or more hours a day for little food or money, have pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy and involuntary servitude. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lesko has said that over the years, the women were forced to eat vomit; scalded; stabbed and made to take freezing showers.

"This craziness, this imagination, this making up things - isn't that what this case is all about?" said Scaring.

If convicted, the couple could face 40 years in prison.

The case is expected to go to the jury late Tuesday or Wednesday.

The couple are accused of bringing the two Indonesian women to the United States to work as housekeepers and enslaving them in their mansion, sending $100 (€68) to $150 (€102) a month home to their families but subjecting them to repeated psychological and physical abuse.

The Sabhnanis, who operate a worldwide perfume business out of their home, were arrested in May after one of the servants, Samirah, wearing tattered clothes, was found wandering outside a doughnut shop, pleading for help after apparently escaping while taking out the trash. The second housekeeper, Enung, was found hiding in a basement closet later that day after authorities searched the mansion based on Samirah's claims.

The Sabhnanis' defense attorneys have said the two women concocted the story of abuse as a way of escaping the house for more lucrative opportunities. They contend the housekeepers practiced witchcraft and may have abused themselves as part of an Indonesian self-mutilation ritual.

The couple are free on $4.5 million (€3.06 million) bail and are being kept under house arrest, paying an estimated $10,000 (€6,794.40) a day for round-the-clock security monitoring.