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

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

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - 4 members of a billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

 

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

A Swiss court dismissed more serious charges of human trafficking 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 in part. The four received between four and 4 1/2 years in prison.

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

Lawyers for the 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 back home that they couldn’t access.

The four were convicted of “usury” for having taken advantage of their vulnerable immigrant staff to pay them a pittance.

“The employees’ inexperience was exploited,” judge Sabina Mascotto said in her judgment. “They had little education or none at all and had no knowledge of their rights.

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

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

Dogs treated better

During the trial the family were accused of bringing servants from their native India and confiscating their passports once they got to Switzerland.
Prosecutor Yves Bertossa accused the Hindujas of spending “more on their dog than on their domestic employees.”
The family paid the household 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 the law in Switzerland,” Mascotto said.
The family denied the allegations, claiming the prosecutors wanted to “do in the Hindujas.”
They had reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with the three employees who made the accusations against them, leading them to drop their legal action, said the defense.
Despite this, the prosecution had decided to pursue the case due to the seriousness of the charges.
Following the verdict, Bertossa requested an immediate detention order for Ajay and Namrata Hinduja, claiming a flight risk.
The judged denied it, accepting the defense argument that the family had ties to Switzerland. It noted that Kamal Hinduja was hospitalized in Monaco and the three other family members were at her bedside.
Both the elder Hindujas had been absent since the start of the trial for health reasons.
A statement from the defense lawyers announcing the appeal said they were “appalled and disappointment” at the court’s ruling.
But it added: “The family has full faith in the judicial 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 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 had slammed the “excessive” indictment, arguing the trial should be a question of “justice, not social justice.”
Namrata Hinduja’s lawyer Romain Jordan had also pleaded for acquittal, claiming the prosecutors were aiming to make an example of the family.
He argued the prosecution had failed to mention extra payments made to staff on top of their cash salaries.
“No employee was cheated out of his or her salary,” Assael added.
With interests in oil and gas, banking and health care, the Hinduja Group is present in 38 countries and employs around 200,000 people.

Excessie sentence?

Robert Assael, a lawyer for Kamal Hinduja, said he was “relieved” that the court threw out 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 Hinduja’s 75-year-old wife was in intensive care and the family was with her.
Last week, it emerged in court that the family had reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs. Swiss authorities have seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewelry and assets in anticipation that they could be used to pay for legal fees and possible penalties.
Along with three brothers, Prakash Hinduja leads an industrial conglomerate in sectors including information technology, media, power, real estate and health care. Forbes magazine has put the Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion.
The family set up residence 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 this case, the court said the four were guilty of exploiting the workers and providing unauthorized employment, giving meager if any health benefits and paying wages that were less than one-tenth the pay for such jobs in Switzerland.
Prosecutors said workers described a “climate of fear” instituted by Kamal Hinduja. They were forced to work with little or no vacation time, and worked even later hours for receptions. They slept in the basement, sometimes on a mattress on the floor.

 

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