(Bloomberg) -- Four members of the billionaire Hinduja family were found guilty of exploiting poorly paid servants at their Geneva villa, in a damning verdict for the Swiss branch of one of India’s wealthiest and most influential clans. 

Family scion Ajay Hinduja, his wife Namrata and his parents Prakash and Kamal illegally took advantage of staff hired in India, paying them wages a fraction of the going rate in Switzerland, Judge Sabina Mascotto said in a ruling Friday. 

The elder Hindujas — who failed to attend the trial, citing poor health — were both sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison. Ajay and his wife, who were not present in the courtroom, were given 4 years. All four were acquitted of human trafficking. Despite the judgment, it’s uncertain whether any of the family will serve jail time.

The domestic staff “were exploited given the evident disproportion between what they were paid and should have been paid,” Mascotto said, reading from the verdict. “They 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 3-6 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.”

Lawyers for the Hindujas said “we are appalled and disappointed” by the decision and have filed an appeal. 

“The family has full faith in the judicial process and remains confident that the truth will prevail,” the lawyers said in a statement. 

The judgment marks another important victory for Yves Bertossa, Geneva’s top prosecutor, who secured a conviction of mining tycoon Beny Steinmetz in 2021 on bribery charges and rogue Credit Suisse banker Patrice Lescaudron in 2018.

Ill Family Member 

Romain Jordan, Namrata’s lawyer, explained the absence of the defendants. He read the court from a letter from a doctor in Monaco that Kamal Hinduja is seriously ill and that Ajay and Namrata and Prakash had to be by her bedside.

“We’re not talking about two people who are trying to flee justice,” said Jordan. Yael Hayat, Ajay’s lawyer, said that her client has attended all the hearings and would never have missed the judgment, were it not for his mother’s illness.

Taking into account that servants and the family reached a civil settlement earlier in the trial, the judge ordered the family to pay a reduced amount of 850,000 Swiss francs ($950,000) in compensation and some 270,000 francs in legal fees.

Bertossa asked the judge to order the eventual detention of the two younger Hindujas and if not, have them surrender their passports on their return to Switzerland and pay 2 million francs each as bail. The hearing was suspended on Friday evening as the judge considered the prosecutor’s request. 

Ultimately, the Geneva court accepted his argument that the four Hindujas exploited their servants’ lack of local knowledge and language skills to work them up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week with no statutory time off or benefits, on wages that were a fraction of Swiss norms. 

The fact the Hindujas employed them with no Swiss paperwork and relied on short-term Schengen-zone European Union visas, which they renewed over and over again, was a deliberate attempt to hoodwink the authorities, Bertossa had argued. 

Lawyers for the Hindujas had argued that all recruitment was done through the Hinduja Group in India and that Ajay was a busy businessman who was not involved and not aware of their contract details. Moreover, their wages couldn’t simply be reduced to what they were paid in cash, the lawyers said, given their board and lodging in one of Europe’s most expensive cities were covered. 

Their conviction springs from a case that began in 2018 when, following a tipoff, Swiss prosecutors raided the villa as well as the offices of Hinduja Bank and other local businesses that belong to the sprawling Hinduja Group, taking documents relating to the Swiss Hinduja family’s accounts and hard drives. 

The bank itself was not the target of the raids and is not suspected of wrongdoing in the case, nor are the remaining three branches of the Hinduja family who don’t live in Switzerland. 

Founded by Parmanand Deepchand Hinduja in 1914 in the Sindh region of British India, the one-time commodities-trading firm was rapidly diversified by his four sons, with early success coming from distributing Bollywood films outside India. Srichand, the eldest of the four brothers, died in 2023.

That left Gopichand and his two younger brothers Prakash and Ashok, who had fought with Srichand and his daughter Vinoo over the family’s broader fortune, before they called a truce on the dispute in 2022. 

The clan which has interests in finance, media and energy industries, and has stakes in six publicly traded Indian companies, has a collective fortune of at least $14 billion, putting it among Asia’s 20 richest dynasties.

(Updates with details on target of raids during investigation in 16th paragraph)

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