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Four members of Britain’s richest family given jail sentences for exploiting servants

Prakash Hinduja
Prakash Hinduja (left) has been found guilty of exploiting workers and providing unauthorised employment - AJIT KUMAR/AP

Four members of Britain’s richest family have been handed prison sentences for exploiting their servants after they were accused of spending more on their pet dog than one of their employees.

A Swiss criminal court found Prakash Hinduja, 78, and his wife, son and daughter-in-law guilty of exploiting workers and providing unauthorised employment, but rejected more serious charges of human trafficking.

The defendants were sentenced to between four and four-and-a-half years in prison each. Lawyers said they would appeal.

Prakash and Kamal Hinduja each received prison sentences of four and a half years, while their son Ajay and his wife, Namrata, were sentenced to four years each. The defendants did not attend court in Geneva.

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A fifth defendant – the family’s business manager Najib Ziazi – was present at the sentencing. He received an 18-month suspended sentence.

The family, which is the richest in Britain with a net worth of more than £37bn, was accused of trafficking and exploiting workers – mostly illiterate Indians – at their Swiss villa.

Swiss villa
The Hindujas' Swiss villa overlooks Lake Geneva

‘Climate of fear’

Earlier this week the court heard that employees had little freedom while working for the family as their passports were confiscated, they were paid in rupees and were not allowed to leave the house without permission.

Yves Bertossa, prosecuting, alleged that staff members were forced to work punishingly long hours for very low pay.

The court heard that pay for some staff was equivalent to less than 10pc of the amount required under Swiss law, while employees were given little or no time off.

Servants allegedly worked even longer hours for receptions and slept in the basement of the villa, sometimes on a mattress on the floor.

One woman was alleged to have been paid as little as seven Swiss francs (£6.19) to work for up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

Ajay Hinduja (L) and his wife Namrata
Ajay Hinduja (left) and his wife Namrata were sentenced to four years in prison each - Rex/Salvatore di Nolfi/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

By contrast, prosecutors referred to budget documents entitled “Pets” that showed the family spent 8,584 Swiss francs in a year on their dog.

Prosecutors accused Kamal Hinduja of creating a “climate of fear”.

Judge Sabina Mascotto said: “They [the workers] were exploited given their situation in India was so precarious and they were exploited as they didn’t know the language, had their passports confiscated and were only ever paid every three to six months.

“The four Hindujas knew the vulnerabilities of the staff and knew what the rules were in Switzerland, as they all were Swiss citizens and Ajay was educated in Switzerland.”

In addition to the prison sentences, the judge ordered the family to pay 850,000 Swiss francs in compensation and 270,000 francs in legal fees.

‘Unacceptable bias’

Romain Jordan, a lawyer for the Hinduja family, previously branded the claims “excessive” and accused the prosecutor of “unacceptable bias”, adding: “No other family would have been treated in this way.”

Mr Jordan explained the defendants’ absence by saying that Kamal Hinduja was seriously ill and that her family had to be by her bedside. He added: “We’re not talking about two people who are trying to flee justice.”

Swiss authorities have already seized valuable jewellery including diamonds, rubies and a platinum necklace in anticipation that they could be used to pay legal fees and potential penalties, Bloomberg reported.

Through their conglomerate Hinduja Group, the family controls businesses across almost a dozen sectors, ranging from finance and IT to infrastructure.

Raffles London at The Old War Office
The Hinduja family owns the Raffles Hotel at the Old War Office in Whitehall - Grain London Ltd

They also own prime real estate in London, including the Raffles Hotel at the Old War Office in Whitehall, where a top suite costs £25,000 a night.

Since the death of patriarch SP Hinduja last year, the empire has been led by his brother Gopi. Prakash is their younger brother.

The family has been resident in Switzerland since the late 1980s and Prakash obtained citizenship in 2000.

He was previously convicted on similar, but less serious, charges in 2007. However, prosecutors said he continued to employ workers without the proper paperwork.

The Hinduja family reached an undisclosed settlement with staff members last week, concluding a civil case that was first filed six years ago.

An unrelated tax case is still pending against Prakash in Switzerland after the country’s highest court ruled he could owe Genevan authorities more than 125m Swiss francs in back taxes.

The Hinduja family’s legal counsel said in a statement: “Our clients the Hinduja family has 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. Under Swiss law, the presumption of innocence is paramount till a final judgement by the highest adjudicating authority is enforced.

“Contrary to some media reports, there is no effective detention for any members of the family.

“It should also be recalled that the plaintiffs in this case had withdrawn their respective complaints after declaring to the court that they had never intended to be involved in such proceedings.

“The family has full faith in the judicial process and remains confident that the truth will prevail.”