Fate of UK's richest family hangs in the balance

Swiss court to rule in trafficking trial of Britain's wealthiest Hindujas worth $47 billion, belonging to India

AFP | Web Desk
June 21, 2024
Gopichand Hinduja (left), Prakash (centre) and Srichand Hinduja leave a New Delhi court room in January 2001. — AFP/File

Four members of Britain's richest family known as the Hindujas, who have been accused of human trafficking and exploiting staff at their mansion in Geneva, will have their fate decided in a Swiss court on Friday.

Prosecutors said the Hindujas, whose fortune is estimated at 37 billion pounds ($47 billion) by the Sunday Times, spent more money on their dog than on their servants.

The charges stem from the family's practice of importing servants from their native India. The judgment is expected at 4pm local time (1400 GMT).

Prakash and Kamal Hinduja, along with their son Ajay and his wife Namrata, are accused of confiscating their servants' passports once they were flown to Switzerland.

Prosecutors allege the Hindujas paid their staff a pittance and gave the servants little freedom to leave the house.

The family denies the allegations, claiming the prosecutors wanted to "do in the Hindujas".

The Hindujas 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 due to the gravity of the charges.

Geneva's first prosecutor, Yves Bertossa, requested a custodial sentence of five and a half years against Prakash and Kamal Hinduja.

Aged 78 and 75 respectively, both had been absent since the start of the trial for health reasons.

In his closing address, the prosecutor accused the family of abusing the "asymmetrical situation" between powerful employer and vulnerable employee to save money.

Household staff were paid a salary between 220-400 francs ($250-450) a month, far below what they could expect to earn in Switzerland.

"They're profiting from the misery of the world," Bertossa told the court.

Defence argued prosecutors overreached

But the Hinduja family's defence lawyers argued that the three plaintiffs received ample benefits, were not kept in isolation and were free to leave the villa.

"We are not dealing with mistreated slaves," Nicolas Jeandin told the court.

Indeed, the employees "were grateful to the Hindujas for offering them a better life", his fellow lawyer Robert Assael argued.

Representing Ajay Hinduja, lawyer Yael Hayat slammed the "excessive" indictment, arguing the trial should be a question of "justice, not social justice".

His wife Namrata's lawyer Romain Jordan also pleaded for acquittal, claiming the prosecutors were aiming to make an example of the family.

He argued the prosecution had failed to mention payments made to staff on top of their cash salaries.

"No employee was cheated out of his or her salary," Assael added.

Some staff even asked for raises, which they received.

With interests in oil and gas, banking and healthcare, the Hinduja Group is present in 38 countries and employs around 200,000 people.