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19 Jul 2024 21:58
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  •   Home > News > Law and Order

    Who are the Hindujas? Meet the Indian-British billionaires jailed for exploiting domestic workers in Switzerland

    Four members of the UK's richest family are sentenced to jail in Switzerland for seizing their workers' passports, barring them from going out and making them work up to 18 hours a day.

    Four members of the UK's richest family have been sentenced to jail in Switzerland for worker exploitation.

    Indian-born tycoon Prakash Hinduja, his wife Kamal, son Ajay and daughter-in-law Namrata, were convicted for exploiting domestic workers at their lakeside villa in Switzerland. 

    They seized the workers' passports, barred them from going out and made them work up to 18 hours a day.

    The family received between four and four-and-a-half years in prison.

    So, who is the billionaire family? 

    Britain's richest family 

    Last month, the family — which is behind the Hinduja Group — topped the Sunday Times Rich list in the UK, with a combined fortune worth 37.2 billion pound ($70.8b).

    They are also ranked among Asia's top 20 wealthiest families. 

    The Hinduja Group is an Indian transnational conglomerate in sectors including information technology, media, power, real estate and health care. 

    It is fronted by chairman Gopi Hinduja, an Indian-British billionaire who is Prakash Hinduja's brother. 

    Prakash is chair of the Hinduja Group in Europe and managed the group's operations in Geneva. 

    He and his wife currently live in Monaco, Forbes reports, and own real estate in London — including the Raffles London hotel. 

    Hinduja, 79, was convicted in 2007 on similar charges and a separate tax case brought by Swiss authorities is pending against him.

    He obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000 after setting up residence in the country in the 1980s. 

    His younger brother Ashok oversees the Indian interests of the group. 

    A climate of fear

    The court said the four were guilty of exploiting the workers and providing unauthorised employment, giving meagre if any health benefits and paying wages that were less than one-10th the pay for such jobs in Switzerland.

    Prosecutors said workers described a "climate of fear" instituted by Kamal Hinduja, 75.

    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 Swiss francs ($545) a month, up to 90 per cent less than the going rate, the judge said.

    The workers were mostly illiterate Indians who were paid not in Swiss francs but in Indian rupees, deposited in banks back home that they couldn't access.

    Workers were forced to work with little or no vacation time, and worked extended hours for receptions.

    They slept in the basement, sometimes on a mattress on the floor.

    What is the sentence?

    Ajay Hinduja and his wife Namrata were sentenced to four years in jail, while his mother and father were jailed for four and a half years. 

    They were not in court during the verdict. 

    A fifth defendant — Najib Ziazi, the family’s business manager — received an 18-month suspended sentence.

    Last week, it emerged in court that the family had reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs.

    Swiss authorities have seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewellery and assets in anticipation that they could be used to pay for legal fees and possible penalties.

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

    The judge denied the request, 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.

    Family say the truth will prevail

    In a statement issued on behalf of the family, lawyers said they would appeal. 

    The statement read: "Our clients have been acquitted of all human trafficking charges. We are appalled and disappointed by the rest of the decision made in this court of first instance, and we have of course filed an appeal to the higher court thereby making this part of the judgement not effective. 

    "Under Swiss law, the presumption of innocence is paramount till a final judgement by the highest adjudicating authority is enforced.

    "Contrary to some media reports, there is no effective detention for any members of the family. 

    "It should also be recalled that the plaintiffs in this case had withdrawn their respective complaints after declaring to the court that they had never intended to be involved in such proceedings. 

    "The family has full faith in the judicial process and remains confident that the truth will prevail."ABC/AP


    © 2024 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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