HomeBusinessSwiss Court Set to Rule in Trafficking Case Involving U.K.’s Richest Family

Swiss Court Set to Rule in Trafficking Case Involving U.K.’s Richest Family

A Swiss court is expected to issue a ruling on Friday on whether members of Britain’s wealthiest family are guilty of human trafficking over allegations they exploited domestic workers at a luxury villa in Geneva.

Prosecutors charged four members of the Hinduja family — Prakash Hinduja, Kamal Hinduja, Ajay Hinduja and Namrata Hinduja — and accused them of trafficking several workers from India, confiscating their passports and forcing them to work 16-hour days without overtime pay in the villa. Lawyers representing the Hindujas have denied the allegations.

The Hinduja family helms a multinational conglomerate with large holdings in automotive manufacturing, banking, oil and gas, real estate and health care. The Sunday Times of London recently estimated the family’s net worth to be 37 billion pounds, or $47 billion, and listed them as Britain’s richest family.

Arguments in the closely watched trial began on June 10, with the lead prosecutor, Yves Bertossa, claiming that the family had budgeted more for a pet than they had for the salary of one domestic worker, according to reports in the Swiss media.

Some domestic workers were paid as little as 10,000 rupees a month (about $120 today), according to the original indictment. It said many of the workers were from poor backgrounds in India and had toiled from “from dawn until late in the evening” without overtime pay. Their salaries — well below Geneva’s minimum wage for domestic workers — were paid into Indian bank accounts that they could not easily access, the indictment said.

Prosecutors alleged that the Hinduja family had confiscated the domestics workers’ passports and told them not to leave the villa, where they slept in bunk beds in a windowless basement room. The workers were expected to be available at all times, the indictment said, including on trips to France and Monaco where they toiled under the same conditions.

Romain Jordan, a lawyer representing the Hinduja family, rejected what he called the “exaggerated and biased allegations.”

“The members of the Hinduja family vigorously deny these allegations and remain determined to defend themselves,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

A civil case involving the key accusers, who worked for the family, was settled last week, according to Swiss media reports. Mr. Jordan declined to discuss the terms, but said that the agreement was “confidential,” and that the plaintiffs had withdrawn their complaints.

In the criminal case, where the judge is expected to rule on Friday, prosecutors are seeking prison sentences of up to five and a half years along with millions of francs in fines and compensation, according to the Swiss media.

Three Hinduja brothers head the family’s conglomerate, with two of them based in Britain and around Europe. The family owns extensive real estate in London, including a 25-bedroom residence and a five-star Raffles Hotel in a historic former government building, the Old War Office.

The most senior of the brothers, Srichand P. Hinduja, who was also joint chairman of the Hinduja Group, died in May last year at 87. Before his death, factions of the family had been involved in a protracted battle over the control of family assets.

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