Hinduja family members get jail term for exploiting staff

The Hindujas - who were not present in court - were acquitted of human trafficking

Updated - June 21, 2024 11:31 pm IST

Published - June 21, 2024 10:30 pm IST - Geneva

Indian-Swiss billionaire family members Namrata Hinduja (L) and Ajay Hinduja (2ndR) arrive at the Genevas courthouse with their lawyers Yael Hayat (C) and Robert Assael (R) at the opening day of their trial for human trafficking on January 15, 2024.

Indian-Swiss billionaire family members Namrata Hinduja (L) and Ajay Hinduja (2ndR) arrive at the Genevas courthouse with their lawyers Yael Hayat (C) and Robert Assael (R) at the opening day of their trial for human trafficking on January 15, 2024. | Photo Credit: AFP

A Swiss court handed jail sentences to four members of Britain's richest family on June 21 for exploiting Indian staff at their Geneva mansion.

The Hindujas — who were not present in court — were acquitted of human trafficking, but convicted on other charges in a stunning verdict for the family whose fortune is estimated at 37 billion pounds ($47 billion).

Prakash Hinduja and his wife Kamal Hinduja each got four years and six months, while their son Ajay and his wife Namrata received four-year terms, the presiding judge in Geneva ruled.

The cases stem from the family's practice of bringing servants from India and included accusations of confiscating their passports once they were flown to Switzerland.

Prosecutors argued the Hindujas paid their staff a pittance and gave them little freedom to leave the house.

The family denied the allegations, claiming the prosecutors wanted to "do in the Hindujas".

The Hindujas reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with the three employees who made the accusations against them.

Despite this, the prosecution decided to pursue the case due to the gravity of the charges.

Geneva prosecutor Yves Bertossa had requested a custodial sentence of five and a half years against Prakash and Kamal Hinduja.

Aged 78 and 75 respectively, both had been absent since the start of the trial for health reasons.

In his closing address, the prosecutor accused the family of abusing the "asymmetrical situation" between powerful employer and vulnerable employee to save money.

Household staff were paid a salary between 220 and 400 francs ($250-450) a month, far below what they could expect to earn in Switzerland.

"They're profiting from the misery of the world," Bertossa told the court.

Not mistreated slaves

But the Hinduja family's defence lawyers argued that the three plaintiffs received ample benefits, were not kept in isolation and were free to leave the villa.

"We are not dealing with mistreated slaves," Nicolas Jeandin told the court.

Indeed, the employees "were grateful to the Hindujas for offering them a better life", his fellow lawyer Robert Assael argued.

Representing Ajay Hinduja, lawyer Yael Hayat had slammed the "excessive" indictment, arguing the trial should be a question of "justice, not social justice".

Namrata Hinduja's lawyer Romain Jordan also pleaded for acquittal, claiming the prosecutors were aiming to make an example of the family.

He argued the prosecution had failed to mention payments made to staff on top of their cash salaries.

"No employee was cheated out of his or her salary," Assael added.

Some staff even asked for raises, which they received.

With interests in oil and gas, banking and healthcare, the Hinduja Group is present in 38 countries and employs around 200,000 people.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.