Swiss court sentences 4 members of Hinduja family to 4.5 years for exploiting their servants

JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press

5 minutes ago

GENEVA (AP) — A Swiss criminal court on Friday sentenced four members of the billionaire Hinduja family to between four and four and a half years in prison for exploiting their vulnerable domestic workers, while dismissing the most serious charges of human trafficking .

Abuses by Indian-origin tycoon Prakash Hinduja and his wife, son and daughter-in-law included the seizure of the passports of workers, mostly illiterate Indians employed at their luxury lakeside villa in Geneva. The Hindujas also paid workers in Indian rupees – not Swiss francs – at national banks to which they had no access.

The four defendants were not present at the Geneva court, but a fifth defendant, Najib Ziazi, the family's business manager, was present. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Lawyers representing the defendants said they would appeal.

The court said the four men were guilty of exploiting workers and providing unauthorized employment, such as providing minimal or no health benefits and paying wages less than one-tenth of the salary for such jobs in Switzerland. She dismissed the trafficking charges on the grounds that the staff understood, at least in part, what they were getting into.

The four Hindujas also prohibited domestic workers from leaving the villa and forced them, among other things, to work excruciatingly long hours.

Prakash Hinduja and his wife Kamal were each sentenced to four and a half years, while their son Ajay and his wife, Namrata, were each sentenced to four years. The trial opened on June 10.

Last week it emerged in the criminal court that the family – whose roots are in India – had reached an undisclosed agreement with the complainants. Geneva prosecutors opened the case for alleged illegal activities, including exploitation, human trafficking and violation of Swiss labor law.

The family moved to Switzerland in the late 1980s and Prakash was previously convicted in 2007 on similar, albeit lesser, charges, although prosecutors say he persisted in employing undocumented people anyway appropriate.

Swiss authorities have already seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewelry and belongings from the family, in anticipation that they could be used to pay legal fees and possible sanctions.

Prosecutors said sometimes employees — working jobs like cooks or housekeepers — were forced to work up to 18 hours a day with little or no vacation time. A sick employee was left with a hospital bill of more than 7,000 francs (dollars) and the family only agreed to pay half of it, the court heard.

The employees worked receptions even later and slept in the basement of the villa in the upscale Cologny neighborhood – sometimes on a mattress on the floor, prosecutors said. They described a “climate of fear” created by Kamal Hinduja.

Some employees spoke only Hindi and received their salaries in Indian rupees in banks in their country to which they had no access.

Another tax case filed by Swiss authorities is ongoing against Prakash Hinduja, who obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000.

Along with three brothers, he runs an industrial conglomerate in sectors including information technology, media, energy, real estate and health care. Forbes magazine currently estimates the Hinduja family's net worth at some $20 billion.

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