Billionaire Hinduja family accused of confiscating staff passports, forcing 18-hour work days


A human trafficking trial began in Switzerland Monday against four members of the billionaire Hinduja family who are accused of exploiting household staff at their villa on Lake Geneva, paying as little as $8 for work days that stretched from 15 to 18 hours and confiscating the passports of those who worked for them, allegations a lawyer for the family has denied.

Indian-Swiss billionaire family members Namrata and Ajay Hinduja arrive at Geneva’s courthouse with their lawyers on Jan. 15, 2024. Prakash and Kamal Hinduja did not travel to Switzerland for the trial, citing poor health.

AFP via Getty Images

Key Takeaways
  • Members of the Hinduja family—elders Prakash and Kamal Hinduja, their son Ajay and his wife Namrata—are facing criminal charges of human trafficking and their trial began Monday, Bloomberg reported, days after they settled a civil case brought by their staff over the alleged worker exploitation.
  • Details of the settlement were not disclosed but the parties reached an agreement Friday, six years after the civil suit was filed, over allegations they paid their staff, including childcare workers, a fraction of local wages and forced them to work illegally long hours.
  • The criminal charges center around claims the Hindujas illegally brought the staff in and out of Switzerland after having confiscated their passports, that servants weren’t allowed to leave the employer’s house without permission and that they were paid for their work in India, meaning they had no Swiss money and therefore little freedom when visiting the country, according to Bloomberg.
  • Yael Hayat, attorney for Ajay Hinduja, reportedly said in court that claims of an 18-hour work day were an exaggeration and that the salaries, said to be below $8 per day, “can’t simply be reduced to what they were paid in cash” because staff food and lodging were paid for by the family.
  • Prosecutors are pushing for years-long prison sentences for all four Hinduja family members and want to demand a compensation fund worth millions of dollars be established for staff members.
  • Lawyers for the Hinduja family pushed back on the claims, saying the family members themselves were not involved in the hiring or day-to-day handling of staff.
  • Romain Jordan, an attorney for the family, said in a statement to Forbes that the criminal indictment is “excessive” and accused the prosecutor of being biased toward the Hindujas: “No other family would have been treated in this way. Our clients remain determined to defend themselves and have confidence in the judicial system,” he said.

Indian-Swiss billionaire family members Namrata Hinduja, far left, and Ajay Hinduja, second right, at Geneva’s courthouse.

AFP via Getty Images

Surprising Fact

One prosecutor accused the Hindujas of spending more to pamper their family dog than they paid one of their staff members, according to Bloomberg.

What To Watch For

A verdict, which will be rendered by three Swiss judges, not a jury.

Forbes Valuation

The Hinduja family was ranked at No. 7 on Forbes’ list of India’s Richest last year, with an estimated net worth of $20 billion as of October. The family controls the multinational conglomerate the Hinduja group, with interests in shipping, banking, media and other industries, as well as real estate in London, including the Raffles London hotel.

This article was first published on and all figures are in USD.

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