‘Hindujas instituted climate of fear, workers slept in windowless basement’ at Swiss villa: Report

The Hindujas, Britain's wealthiest family, are shocked by a Swiss court's jail terms for exploiting Indian workers. Prosecutors alleged mistreatment of workers, including long hours and inadequate pay.

Livemint
Updated24 Jun 2024, 04:30 PM IST
Indian-Swiss billionaire Hinduja family members at a Swiss court on June 21.
Indian-Swiss billionaire Hinduja family members at a Swiss court on June 21.(AFP)

The Hindujas, Britain's wealthiest family, have expressed shock and disagreement with a Swiss court's decision to impose jail terms on some of their members. They have filed an appeal in a higher court to challenge the verdict, which found them guilty of exploiting vulnerable domestic workers from India at their Geneva villa.

As reported by AP, a spokesperson for Kamal and Prakash Hinduja, along with their son Ajay and his wife Namrata—who are Swiss nationals—clarified that none of them have been convicted, imprisoned, sentenced, or detained due to this case.

Human trafficking charges

Earlier on Friday, the family's lawyers from Switzerland issued a statement on behalf of the Hindujas, emphasizing that their clients had been acquitted of all charges related to human trafficking. They refuted media reports suggesting that any family members were facing detention, despite earlier court reports from Geneva indicating that four individuals had been sentenced to prison terms ranging from four to four-and-a-half years.

“Our clients have been acquitted of all human trafficking charges. We are appalled and disappointed by the rest of the decision made in this court of first instance, and we have, of course, filed an appeal to the higher court, thereby making this part of the judgement not effective,” reads the statement signed by lawyers Yael Hayat and Robert Assael and Roman Jordan.

Also Read: Hinduja brothers sentenced to jail: Breakdown of charges against the India-born richest family in Britain

The family members were accused of confiscating the workers' passports, restricting their freedom to leave the villa, and compelling them to work excessively long hours for minimal pay in Switzerland. Allegedly, some of these workers only spoke Hindi and received their wages in Indian rupees, which were deposited into bank accounts in India that they were unable to access.

Hinduja family's spokesperson says:

“Per Swiss law procedures, the lower court's judgement is rendered ineffective and inoperative as the presumption of innocence is paramount until and unless a final judgment by the highest adjudicating authority is enforced,” said the family's spokesperson said.

“It may be noted that the case has no complainants left anymore and they had declared in the court that they were led into signing statements that they didn't even understand. They had neither intended to nor initiated such proceedings. All of them further testified that the four Hinduja Family Members treated them with ‘respect, dignity and like family’," reported PTI quoting the spokesperson.

‘Spent more on dog than on servants’

During the trial, prosecutors alleged the family spent more on their dog than on their servants.

The family's legal team had countered the allegations and told the court the staff were treated respectfully and provided with accommodation.

According to 'The Sunday Times Rich List' released last month, the Hinduja family, based in the UK, maintained their position as the country's wealthiest, with an estimated wealth of approximately GBP 37.196 billion.

Prosecutors alleged that workers under Kamal Hinduja described a pervasive “climate of fear” where they were compelled to work without adequate vacation time. They were reportedly coerced into working extended hours, particularly during receptions, and were sometimes accommodated in the basement, where they slept on mattresses on the floor.

Also Read: 4 Hinduja family members get jail terms for exploiting servants, mostly Indians, in Switzerland

Their wealth grew from the previous year, partly attributed to the luxurious OWO Raffles Hotel opening in central London.

Led by chairman G P Hinduja, the family's conglomerate operates globally across 48 countries in diverse sectors, including automotive, oil and speciality chemicals, banking and finance, IT, cyber security, healthcare, trading, infrastructure project development, media and entertainment, power, and real estate.

The family established residence in Switzerland in the 1980s, and Hinduja was previously convicted in 2007 on similar charges. A separate tax case initiated by Swiss authorities remains pending against Hinduja, who acquired Swiss citizenship in 2000.

(With inputs from agencies)

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First Published:24 Jun 2024, 04:30 PM IST
HomeNewsworld‘Hindujas instituted climate of fear, workers slept in windowless basement’ at Swiss villa: Report

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