Explained: Billionaire Hindujas sentenced to jail for exploiting Indian workers

While Prakash Hinduja and his wife Kamal were each sentenced to four years and six months in prison, Ajay and his wife, Namrata, received four-year terms.
Prakash Hinduja
Prakash Hinduja Courtesy: Creative Commons/ Richter Frank-Jurgen
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A Swiss court on Friday, June 21, awarded jail sentences to four members of the billionaire Hinduja family for exploiting domestic workers at their Geneva mansion.

Indian-born tycoon Prakash Hinduja, his wife Kamal, son Ajay and daughter-in-law Namrata were accused of trafficking their domestic staff, who were illiterate Indians working in their luxurious lakeside villa in Geneva.

While Prakash Hinduja and his wife Kamal were each sentenced to four years and six months in prison, Ajay and his wife, Namrata, received four-year terms.

The Hindujas were acquitted of the serious charge of human trafficking but convicted of other charges. While the family members abstained from attending the court, their business manager Najib Ziazi, who attended the court, received an 18-month suspended sentence.

The Hindujas are British nationals and have settled in Switzerland for decades. The family, whose wealth is estimated to be  £37 billion, were accused of bringing servants from India and underpaying them for their service. They were also accused of confiscating the staff’s passports once they came to Switzerland, depriving them of the chance to escape. 

The victims were paid in Indian currency rather than Swiss francs, and were confined and forced to work for long hours with minimal pay, the prosecutors argued.  

According to the Guardian, the prosecutors argued that 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 court found the family guilty of worker exploitation and unauthorised employment. The trafficking charges were dismissed as the court said that the staff were aware of the terms of their employment. Prosecutors reported that staff members, including cooks and house helps, were sometimes forced to work up to 18 hours a day. 

According to reports, last week, the Hindujas reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with the three employees who had made the accusations against them but the prosecution decided to pursue the case owing to the gravity of the charges.

Swiss authorities have reportedly seized various assets from the family, including jewellery, diamonds, rubies, etc., to cover potential legal fees and penalties. 

Geneva prosecutor Yves Bertossa requested custodial sentences of five and a half years for Prakash and Kamal Hinduja. In his closing address, the prosecutor accused the family of abusing the “asymmetrical situation” between a powerful employer and vulnerable employee to save money, the Guardian reported.

Household staff were paid a salary of between 220 and 400 Swiss francs (£195-£350) a month, far below what they could otherwise expect to earn in Switzerland. “They’re profiting from the misery of the world,” Bertossa was quoted as saying in the court.

The Hinduja family’s defence lawyers, however, argued that the three plaintiffs received ample benefits and their movements were not restricted. 

Background of the case

The Hindujas were convicted after an investigation based on a tip-off in 2018. Swiss prosecutors raided the Hinduja villa, Hinduja Bank offices, and other businesses owned by the Hinduja Group, following which it was discovered that the family was providing unauthorised employment, offering minimal health benefits, and paying wages less than one-tenth of the standard rate for such jobs in Switzerland. Documents and hard drives were seized as evidence. 

The prosecutors highlighted that the workers were forced to work for extended hours and endured harsh conditions with little or no vacation. The workers were made to sleep in the basement on mattresses.

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