HomeLatest NewsUK’s richest Indian-origin family convicted for ‘enslaving’ staff in Switzerland

UK’s richest Indian-origin family convicted for ‘enslaving’ staff in Switzerland

LONDON: In a landmark ruling by a Swiss court, four members of the UK‘s wealthiest family of Indian descent — the Hindujas — were handed jail sentences, with the judge condemning their exploitation of immigrant staff at their Geneva mansion as “selfish.”

Despite their absence from court, lawyers for the Swiss-Indian family vowed to appeal the verdict on Friday.

While cleared of human trafficking charges, the defendants faced convictions on others in a surprising legal outcome for the Hindujas, whose wealth totals $47 billion according to the Sunday Times.

Prakash Hinduja, 78, and his wife Kamal Hinduja, 75, each received four years and six months, while their son Ajay, 56, and his wife Namrata, 50, were sentenced to four years, as ruled by the presiding judge in Geneva.

Guilty of “usury”

The court found them guilty of “usury,” highlighting their exploitation of vulnerable immigrant staff from India by paying them paltry wages. “The employees’ inexperience was exploited,” judge Sabina Mascotto said in her judgement.

“They had little education or none at all and did not know their rights. The defendants’ motives were selfish,” she said, adding that the Hindujas were motivated “by the desire for gain”.

The court acquitted them of the more serious charge of human trafficking because the workers had travelled to Switzerland willingly.

Wages of exploitation

During the trial, the family were accused of bringing servants from their native India and confiscating their passports once they got to Switzerland. Prosecutor Yves Bertossa accused the Hindujas of spending “more on their dog than on their domestic employees”.

The family paid the household staff about 325 francs ($363) a month, up to 90% less than the going rate, the judge said. “The four Hinduja defendants knew the weak position their employees were in and knew the law in Switzerland,” Mascotto said.

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

They had reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with the three employees who made the accusations against them, leading them to drop their legal action, said the defence.

Seriousness of charges

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

Following the verdict, Bertossa requested an immediate detention order for Ajay and Namrata Hinduja, claiming a flight risk.

The judge denied it, accepting the defence argument that the family had ties to Switzerland. It noted that Kamal Hinduja was hospitalised in Monaco and the three other family members were at her bedside.

Both the elder Hindujas had been absent since the start of the trial for health reasons.

A statement from the defence lawyers announcing the appeal said they were “appalled and disappointment” at the court’s ruling.

But it added: “The family has full faith in the judicial process and remains confident that the truth will prevail.”

Modern slavery?

The defence had argued that the three employees 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 had also pleaded for acquittal, claiming the prosecutors were aiming to make an example of the family.

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

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

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

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