GENEVA: A Swiss court has handed jail sentences to four members of Britain’s richest family on Friday, branding them “selfish” for exploiting Indian staff at their Geneva mansion.

The Hindujas were acquitted of human trafficking, but convicted on other charges in a stunning verdict for the family, whose fortune is estimated at £37 billion by The Sunday Times.

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.

They were found guilty of a charge of “usury” for taking advantage of their “vulnerable” immigrant staff, to pay them a “pittance”. “The employees’ inexperience was exploited. They had little education or none at all and had no knowledge of their rights,” Sabina Mascotto stated in her judgement.

“The defendants’ motives were selfish,” she said, adding that the Hindujas were motivated “by the desire for gain”. Lawyers for the members of the Swiss-Indian family, who were not present in court, say they plan to appeal the verdict.

The court acquitted them of the more serious charge of human trafficking, on the grounds that the workers had travelled to Switzerland willingly.

$450 salary

During the trial, the family were accused of bringing servants from their native India and “confiscating” their passports, once they reached Switzerland.

Prosecutor Yves Bertossa accused the Hindujas of spending “more on their dog than on their domestic employees”. The Hindujas paid the household staff a salary between 220 and 400 francs ($250-450) a month, (which is) up to 90 per cent less than the going rate, the court heard.

“The four Hinduja defendants knew the weak position their employees were in and knew the law in Switzerland,” Mascotto said. The family denies the allegations, claiming the prosecutors wanted to “do in the Hindujas”.

The family had 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, in view of the seriousness of the charges.

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

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2024

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