July 16th, 2024

Swiss court clears 4 members of billionaire Hinduja family of human trafficking charges

By Jamey Keaten, The Associated Press on June 21, 2024.

GENEVA (AP) – A Swiss criminal court on Friday cleared four members of a billionaire family of charges that they engaged in illegal human trafficking of their servants, mostly illiterate Indians, who were employed at their luxurious lakeside villa in Geneva.

But the court convicted Indian-born tycoon Prakash Hinduja and his wife, son and daughter-in-law on lesser charges. The court said the four were guilty of exploiting workers and providing unauthorized employment. No sentence has been issued yet.

The court threw out charges of human trafficking on the grounds that staff understood what they were getting into.

None of the family members were present in court for the verdict, but the family’s business adviser who was also on trial Najib Ziazi, was in attendance.

The four members of the Hinduja family were accused of seizing workers’ passports, paying them in rupees ““ not Swiss francs – barring them from leaving the villa and forcing them to work excruciatingly long hours for a pittance in Switzerland, among other things.

Last week, it emerged in criminal court that the family – which has roots in India – had reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs. Geneva prosecutors opened the case for alleged illegal activity including exploitation, human trafficking and violation of Swiss labor laws.

The family set up residence in Switzerland decades ago, and Prakash was already convicted in 2007 on similar, if lesser charges, though prosecutors say he persisted in employing people without proper paperwork anyway.

Swiss authorities have already seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewelry and assets from the family in anticipation that they could be used to pay for legal fees and possible penalties.

Prosecutors said that at times the staffers – in jobs like cooks or house help – were forced to work up to 18 hours a day with little or no vacation time off and for pay that was equal to less than one-tenth of the comparable amount required under Swiss law.

Employees worked even later hours for receptions and slept in the basement of the villa in the upscale Cologny neighborhood – sometimes on a mattress on the floor, prosecutors said. They described a “climate of fear” instituted by Kamal Hinduja.

Some employees allegedly spoke only Hindi and were paid their wages in Indian rupees in banks back home that they couldn’t access.

A separate tax case brought by Swiss authorities is pending against Prakash Hinduja, who obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000.

Along with three brothers, he is a leader of an industrial conglomerate in sectors including information technology, media, power, real estate and health care. Forbes magazine currently puts the net worth of the Hinduja family at some $20 billion.

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