Hinduja Family Members Sentenced to Prison for Labor Exploitation in Switzerland

Geneva — On Friday, an Indian-born billionaire and three family members were sentenced to prison for exploiting domestic workers at their lakeside villa in Switzerland. The court found that they had confiscated the workers’ passports, prevented them from leaving, and forced them to work up to 18 hours a day.

While the 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, they were convicted on lesser charges. The court ruled that the workers were aware of the conditions, at least in part, despite the exploitative practices. The four received prison sentences ranging from four to 4 1/2 years.

The workers, mostly illiterate Indians, were paid not in Swiss francs but in Indian rupees deposited in banks back home that they couldn’t access.

Lawyers representing the defendants indicated they would appeal the verdict.

Robert Assael, a lawyer representing Kamal Hinduja, expressed relief at the dismissal of the trafficking charges but deemed the sentence excessive. He cited the family’s poor health, stating that Hinduja’s 75-year-old wife was in intensive care, and the family was with her.

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

Last week, it came to light that the family had settled with the plaintiffs, although the terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Swiss authorities have seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace, and other jewelry and assets in anticipation of potential legal fees and penalties.

Along with three brothers, Prakash Hinduja heads an industrial conglomerate with interests in information technology, media, power, real estate, and health care. Forbes magazine estimates the Hinduja family’s net worth at approximately $20 billion.

The family established residence in Switzerland in the 1980s, and Hinduja was convicted on similar charges in 2007. A separate case is pending against him, who obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000.

In this case, the court found the four guilty of exploiting the workers, providing unauthorized employment, offering minimal to nonexistent health benefits, and paying wages that were less than one-tenth the standard rate for such jobs in Switzerland.

Prosecutors presented testimonies from workers describing a “climate of fear” orchestrated by Kamal Hinduja. They were compelled to work with limited or no vacation time, and even longer hours for receptions. They slept in the basement, often on a mattress on the floor.