Hinduja family spent more on pet dog than a servant’s salary, says Swiss prosecutor

The billionaire Hinduja family spent more on their pet dog than they paid one of their servants, according to a Swiss prosecutor who urged jail terms of as long as five and a half years at a trial over alleged trafficking and exploitation of Indian staff at their Lake Geneva villa.

Bloomberg
First Published17 Jun 2024, 11:01 PM IST

The billionaire Hinduja family spent more on their pet dog than they paid one of their servants, according to a Swiss prosecutor who urged jail terms of as long as five and a half years at a trial over alleged trafficking and exploitation of Indian staff at their Lake Geneva villa.

Prosecutor Yves Bertossa launched a blistering attack on the family at the Swiss city’s criminal court on Monday morning, citing testimony from the staff and Hindujas, as well as evidence submitted during his investigation.

“They spent more for one dog than one of their servants,” he said. The woman, he said, was paid at one point as little as 7 Swiss francs ($7.84) for a working day that lasted as long as 18 hours, seven days a week. He pointed to a budget document headlined “Pets,” which he said demonstrated that the family spent 8,584 Swiss francs in a year on their family dog.

Staff contracts didn’t specify working hours or days off, but rather that they be available as needed by their employers, Bertossa continued. Given their passports had been confiscated, they had no Swiss francs to spend as their wages were paid in India and couldn’t leave the house without their employer’s permission, they had little to no freedom, he argued.

Also Read | Hindujas say ₹9,860 cr R-Cap deal delayed over FDI rules, regulatory clearances

Even when they left the Hindujas’ home for the family’s residences in the Swiss Alps or Cote d’Azur, it wasn’t for fun, he said. When they accompanied family members to Cannes, he asked, “what were they doing there, jetskiiing?”

But lawyers for the family immediately hit back at Bertossa’s claims, repeatedly citing the servants’ testimony that they were treated with respect and dignity. Bertossa, according to the defense, was being misleading in his characterizations of their remuneration.

“The salary can’t simply be reduced to what they were paid in cash,” given their board and lodgings were covered, said Yael Hayat, a lawyer for family scion Ajay Hinduja. Eighteen hour-working days is also an exaggeration, she said.

“When they sit down to watch a movie with the kids, can that be considered work? I think not,” she said.

Hayat argued that one of the workers considered the pay she got in Geneva to be good compared with what she earned in India. She said the woman came to Geneva of her own will, and kept coming back over and over again.

The idea of “breaking the rich to make the poor less poor” is attractive but the Geneva prosecutor’s office is conflating justice with social justice, she continued. “The decision rendered in this case must be a judicial one.”

During the trial, Ajay testified that he lacked a detailed knowledge of the staff’s working conditions as their recruitment was handled by the Hinduja Group in India. Nevertheless he said that staff are no longer paid informally and now all hiring is done locally through a third-party.

Also Read | Hinduja Group’s Indian-origin chairman is UK’s wealthiest individual this year

“You won’t find a single employee who says they were hired by Ajay,” Hayat told the court. “The reality is he knows nothing as he was elsewhere.”

The senior family members Prakash and Kamal didn’t come to Geneva for the trial citing poor health.

Bertossa said they had shown their contempt for the courts, and called for them to get five and half years in prison. The elderly couple traveled freely between Dubai and Cannes and could have spent the extra 30 minutes on a plane to come to Geneva, he said.

The younger Ajay and his wife Namrata should each receive sentences of four and a half years, Bertossa said. He also demanded the family cover 1 million Swiss francs in court costs and pay 3.5 million francs into a compensation fund for the staff.

Despite the family and their staff reaching a deal last week which saw the three plaintiffs dropping their civil case against the Hindujas, the criminal trial continues this week. A panel of three judges will render a verdict, not a jury as is the norm in US or UK criminal trials.

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First Published:17 Jun 2024, 11:01 PM IST
HomeNewsworldHinduja family spent more on pet dog than a servant’s salary, says Swiss prosecutor

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