Hinduja family members sentenced to prison for exploiting domestic staff

Four members of the billionaire Hinduja clan, the UK’s richest family, have been found guilty of exploiting their domestic staff and sentenced to long prison terms by a Geneva court.

In a ruling on Friday, a three-judge panel found Prakash Hinduja, his wife Kamal, as well as his son Ajay and his wife, Namrata, guilty of serious labor offenses involving Indian staff.

“They spent more on (their) dog than on one of their servants,” Geneva prosecutor Yves Bertossa said in court this week in a case that shed a harsh light on the harsh conditions to which one of the most rich people in the world subjected their staff.

The court acquitted the four Hindujas of the most serious charge of human trafficking brought by the authorities.

The domestic staff at the center of the case, who were mostly illiterate, had been flown directly from India to work in the family’s palatial home in Switzerland.

In a damning verdict, Judge Sabina Mascotto said the Hindujas had no excuse for their behaviour.

“(The workers) were exploited because their situation in India was very precarious and they were exploited because they did not know the language, their passports were confiscated and they were only paid every 3 to 6 months,” Mascotto said.

“The four Hindujas were aware of the vulnerabilities of the staff and knew what the rules were in Switzerland as they were all Swiss citizens and Ajay was educated in Switzerland,” he added.

However, the court ruled that the employees were aware of the terms they had signed up to when they entered the family’s service in India and therefore could not be said to have been trafficked.

Reflecting the seriousness of the crimes for which the four were convicted, Prakash and Kamal were sentenced to four and a half years in prison. Ajay and Namrata received a four-year sentence.

An appeal process could take years in the often slow Swiss judicial system, under which a ruling is not considered final until all avenues of appeal have been exhausted. The four members of the Hinduja family were not present in the court during the verdict.

Romain Jordan, a lawyer for the family, said his clients were “horrified and disappointed” by the court’s decision.

“Importantly, the family has been acquitted of human trafficking charges,” he said.

An appeal has already been filed. “Under Swiss law, the presumption of innocence is paramount until a final adverse ruling by the highest judicial authority is carried out,” Jordan emphasized.

Prakash is the second of three brothers behind the Hinduja Group, a sprawling multinational conglomerate with interests in everything from automobiles and petrochemicals to banking and arms.

His elder brothers, Gopichand and Srichand, settled in London in the 1980s and made it the center of the group’s affairs. Gopichand, worth an estimated £35 billion, is the richest man in the UK. Srichand died last May.

Prakash settled in Switzerland, from where he runs the family bank. He obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000. His younger brother, Ashok, heads the Hinduja Group’s Indian interests.

In a week of explosive revelations, the Geneva prosecutor accused Prakash, Kamal, Ajay and Namrata of treating their employees like indentured servants.

They were accused of keeping staff trapped in a villa in the ultra-exclusive Lake Geneva suburb of Cologny, where they slept in poor conditions in basement rooms.

According to prosecutor Bertossa, the workers received less than a tenth of the salary they were entitled to under Swiss law.

One servant was paid only 7 Swiss francs a day and worked up to 18 hours, 7 days a week, Bertossa alleged. The family dog ​​spent more than triple that amount on him, according to documents seized by police and presented in court.

In addition to caring for the family in Cologny, the staff entourage traveled with the Hindujas to their ski chalet in the Swiss Alps and their villa on the Côte d’Azur, but otherwise had almost no personal freedom, Bertossa said.

They took their passports. They were paid in rupees into Indian bank accounts, which they did not have access to while in Switzerland, he said.

Giving evidence, family members denied the allegations against them and said their staff had been like “family members.”

Ajay’s lawyer, Yael Hayat, told the court that the prosecutor’s claims about the employees were exaggerated. “When you sit down to watch a movie with your kids, can it be considered work?” She asked the court to consider it.

A civil case brought against the family on behalf of their staff was settled last week for an undisclosed sum.

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