Hinduja Family Members Found Guilty of Exploiting Servants in Geneva Villa Scandal

Featured & Cover Hinduja Family Members Found Guilty of Exploiting Servants in Geneva Villa Scandal

Four members of the billionaire Hinduja family have been found guilty of exploiting underpaid servants at their Geneva villa, a significant verdict against one of India’s wealthiest and most influential families.

Ajay Hinduja, his wife Namrata, and his parents Prakash and Kamal, exploited staff hired from India, paying them wages far below the Swiss standard, according to Judge Sabina Mascotto’s ruling on Friday.

Prakash and Kamal Hinduja, who did not attend the trial due to health issues, were sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison. Ajay and Namrata, who were also absent from the courtroom, received 4-year sentences. All four were acquitted of human trafficking, and it remains uncertain whether they will serve jail time.

Judge Mascotto emphasized the disparity between the wages the staff received and what they were legally entitled to in Switzerland. “They were exploited given the evident disproportion between what they were paid and should have been paid,” she stated. She highlighted that the staff, due to their precarious situation in India, lack of language skills, confiscated passports, and irregular payment intervals, were vulnerable. “The four Hindujas knew the vulnerabilities of the staff and knew what the rules were in Switzerland, as they all were Swiss citizens and Ajay was educated in Switzerland,” Mascotto added.

The Hindujas’ lawyers expressed their disappointment with the decision and have appealed. “We are appalled and disappointed by the decision. The family has full faith in the judicial process and remains confident that the truth will prevail,” they stated.

This judgment represents a notable success for Geneva’s top prosecutor, Yves Bertossa, who previously secured convictions against mining tycoon Beny Steinmetz on bribery charges in 2021 and rogue Credit Suisse banker Patrice Lescaudron in 2018.

Romain Jordan, Namrata’s lawyer, explained the defendants’ absence, citing a doctor’s letter from Monaco stating that Kamal Hinduja is seriously ill, necessitating the presence of Ajay, Namrata, and Prakash at her bedside. “We’re not talking about two people who are trying to flee justice,” Jordan remarked. Ajay’s lawyer, Yael Hayat, stressed that Ajay had attended all prior hearings and would not have missed the judgment if not for his mother’s illness.

Considering a prior civil settlement between the servants and the family, the judge ordered the Hindujas to pay a reduced compensation amount of 850,000 Swiss francs ($950,000) and 270,000 francs in legal fees.

Bertossa requested the judge to detain Ajay and Namrata or, failing that, to have them surrender their passports upon returning to Switzerland and pay 2 million francs each as bail. The hearing was adjourned as the judge deliberated on this request.

The Geneva court ultimately accepted Bertossa’s argument that the Hindujas exploited their servants’ lack of local knowledge and language skills, working them up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week without statutory time off or benefits, for wages far below Swiss norms.

Bertossa argued that employing the servants without proper Swiss documentation and renewing their short-term Schengen-zone European Union visas repeatedly was a deliberate attempt to deceive the authorities.

The Hindujas’ lawyers contended that the recruitment was handled through the Hinduja Group in India and that Ajay, being a busy businessman, was unaware of the contract details. They also argued that the servants’ wages included their board and lodging in one of Europe’s most expensive cities, not just the cash payments.

The case began in 2018 when Swiss prosecutors, acting on a tipoff, raided the villa and the offices of Hinduja Bank and other local businesses linked to the Hinduja Group, seizing documents related to the Swiss Hinduja family’s accounts and hard drives.

While the bank was not the target of the raids and is not suspected of wrongdoing, nor are the other three branches of the Hinduja family who live outside Switzerland, the case has put the spotlight on the family’s business practices.

Founded by Parmanand Deepchand Hinduja in 1914 in the Sindh region of British India, the Hinduja Group rapidly diversified from its origins in commodities trading, with early success in distributing Bollywood films internationally. Srichand Hinduja, the eldest of the four brothers who led the family’s expansion, passed away in 2023.

The remaining three brothers, Gopichand, Prakash, and Ashok, have interests in finance, media, and energy industries, and hold stakes in six publicly traded Indian companies. The family, which had internal disputes over their fortune, resolved their conflicts in 2022. With a collective wealth of at least $14 billion, the Hinduja family is among Asia’s 20 richest dynasties.

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