|Ariyawathi said her employers forced nails into her body as a punishment for her inability to communicate [AFP]
Saudi government officials have questioned the account of a Sri Lankan maid who said her Saudi employers planted 24 nails and needles into her body.
Saad al-Badah, the chairman of the National Recruitment Committee, told Saudi state television on Tuesday that the account of LT Ariyawathi seemed "80 per cent fabricated" and suggested the motive could be extortion.
He questioned how the woman, who worked for a Saudi family in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, for five months until August, could have continued to be healthy and without infection with nails in her body.
He also said that it was hard to believe she could have passed through several airport metal detectors on her return from Riyadh with so many pieces of metal in her body.
"Even someone with just one coin in his pocket has to remove it when passing through the detector," Badah said.
Abdel-Hadi Abaeri, the head of the security department at the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority, said no reports of such abuse have been received at the kingdom's airports.
Ariyawathi, 49, returned to Sri Lanka two weeks ago, complaining that she had been beaten and tortured by her employers, who she said had hammered the nails and pins into various parts of her body.
Surgeons at Sri Lanka's southern Kamburupitiya hospital last week removed 19 of the five centimetres-long nails and a needle in a three-hour operation.
Ariyawathi told the hospital that her Saudi employer inflicted the injuries on her as a punishment for her inability to communicate with those in the household.
"She said her employer heated the nails and then hammered them into her body," Prabath Gajadeera, the hospital director, told the AFP news agency.
"The nails were in her arms, legs and forehead."
Gajadeera said the woman could not have driven the nails herself.
"It is clear someone else had to drive in the nails... We will in any case refer her to a psychiatrist for analysis before discharging her from hospital."
Nimal Ranawaka, the labour attache at the Sri Lankan embassy in Riyadh, said he was aware of the Saudi doubts but that the case remained under investigation.
Saudi Arabia's English-language newspaper Arab News called for the probe to be completed as quickly as possible to avoid further damage to the kingdom's reputation.
"Clearly the story has to be thoroughly investigated. If her employers did this then they must be punished rigorously, and be seen to be punished," the paper said in an editorial on Wednesday.
"But equally, if the woman did this to herself, hoping to benefit financially from it, she must be punished."
Around 500,000 Sri Lankans work in Saudi Arabia, part of a massive foreign workforce that constitutes around 30 per cent of the total Saudi population of 27 million.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies