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4 members of a billionaire family go to prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

GENEVA: An Indian-born billionaire and three family members were jailed on Friday for exploiting domestic workers at their lakeside villa in Switzerland, confiscating their passports, banning them from going out and making them work up to 18 hours a day.

A Swiss court dismissed more serious human trafficking charges against 79-year-old tycoon Prakash Hinduja; his wife, Kamal; son Ajay and daughter-in-law Namrata on the grounds that the workers understood what they were getting into, at least partially. The four received between four and four and a half years in prison.

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

Lawyers for members of the Swiss-Indian family – who were not present in court – said they would appeal the verdict.

The workers were mostly illiterate Indians who were paid not in Swiss francs but in Indian rupees, deposited in banks at home that they could not access.

The four were convicted of “usury” for taking advantage of vulnerable immigrant staff to pay them a stake.

“The inexperience of the employees was exploited,” said judge Sabina Mascotto in her judgment. “They had little or no education and no knowledge of their rights.

“The motives of the defendants were selfish,” she said, adding that the Hindujas were motivated “by the desire for profit.”

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

Dogs treated better

During the trial, the family was accused of bringing in servants from their native India and confiscating their passports once they arrived in Switzerland.
Prosecutor Yves Bertossa accused the Hindujas of spending “more on their dog than on their domestic workers”.
The family paid domestic staff about 325 francs ($363) a month, up to 90 percent less than the going rate, the judge said.
“The four Hinduja defendants knew the weak position their employees were in and knew Swiss law,” Mascotto said.
The family denied the charges, claiming prosecutors wanted to “do it in Hinduja”.
They reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with the three employees who made the allegations against them, prompting them to drop the lawsuit, the defense said.
However, the prosecution had decided to proceed with the case due to the seriousness of the charges.
Following the verdict, Bertossa sought an immediate detention order for Ajay and Namrata Hinduja, claiming a flight risk.
The judge denied, accepting the defense’s argument that the family had links to Switzerland. He mentioned that Kamal Hinduja was admitted in Monaco and the other three family members were at her bedside.
Both the elderly Hindujas have been absent since the start of the trial due to health reasons.
A statement from defense lawyers announcing the appeal said they were “dismayed and disappointed” by the court’s ruling.
But he added: “The family has full faith in the legal process and remains confident that the truth will prevail.”

Denial
The defense had argued that the three employees received ample benefits, were not kept in isolation and were free to leave the villa.
“We are not dealing with abused slaves,” Nicolas Jeandin said in court.
Indeed, the employees “were grateful to the Hindus for giving them a better life,” argued his fellow attorney Robert Assael.
Representing Ajay Hinduja, lawyer Yael Hayat criticized the “excessive” charge, arguing that the trial should be a matter of “justice, not social justice”.
Namrata Hinduja’s lawyer, Romain Jordan, also argued for an acquittal, saying prosecutors were aiming to make an example of the family.
He argued that the prosecution did not mention the additional payments made to the staff on top of their cash salaries.
“No employee has been cheated out of their wages,” Assael added.
With interests in oil and gas, banking and healthcare, the Hinduja Group is present in 38 countries and employs approximately 200,000 people.

Excess sentence?

Robert Assael, Kamal Hinduja’s lawyer, said he was “relieved” the court dismissed the trafficking charges, but called the sentence excessive.
“The health of our clients is very poor, they are elderly people,” he said, explaining why the family was not in court. He said his 75-year-old wife Hinduja was in intensive care and her family was with her.
Last week, it emerged in court that the family had reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs. Swiss authorities seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewelry and assets in the expectation that they could be used to pay legal fees and possible penalties.
Along with three brothers, Prakash Hinduja runs an industrial conglomerate in sectors such as information technology, media, power, real estate and healthcare. Forbes magazine has pegged the net worth of the Hinduja family at around $20 billion.
The family settled in Switzerland in the 1980s and Hinduja was convicted in 2007 on similar charges. A separate tax case, brought by Swiss authorities, is pending against Hinduja, who obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000.
In that case, the court said the four were guilty of exploiting workers and providing unauthorized jobs, offering meager, if any, health benefits and paying wages less than one-tenth of the wage for such jobs. work in Switzerland.
Prosecutors said the workers described a “climate of fear” instituted by Kamal Hinduja. They were forced to work with little or no vacation time and even worked late hours for receptions. They slept in the basement, sometimes on a mattress on the floor.

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