Britain’s richest family spent more on pet dog than on servants, Swiss court hears

Ajay Hinduja (L) and his wife Namrata arrive with their lawyer Robert Assael at the court house for the resumption day of the trial against members of Indian billionaire family
Prosecutors have called for Ajay Hinduja (L) and his wife Namrata to receive jail sentences of four-and-a-half years each - SALVATORE DI NOLFI/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Britain’s richest family spent more money on their pet dog than they did on one of their servants, a Swiss court has heard.

Prosecutors have mounted an attack on the billionaire Hinduja family and called for them to face jail time over allegations of trafficking and exploitation of staff at their Lake Geneva villa.

Speaking at a hearing at Geneva’s criminal court on Monday, prosecutor Yves Bertossa said: “They spent more for one dog than one of their servants.”

Mr Bertossa claimed that one woman was paid as little as seven Swiss francs (£6.19) to work for up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, Bloomberg reported.

Meanwhile, he cited a budget document entitled “Pets”, which he said showed how the family spent 8,584 Swiss francs in a year on their family dog.

Staff contracts are said to have excluded reference to specific working hours or days, with the prosecutors suggesting employees had to be available at any time on request.

Mr Bertossa said the employees had little to no freedom while working for the family, citing how their passports had been confiscated and that they were not permitted to leave the house without their employer’s permission.

Lawyers for the Hinduja family rejected the claims, citing testimony from servants who said they had been treated with dignity and respect.

They also accused the prosecutor of painting a misleading picture of how much the workers were paid.

Yael Hayat, a lawyer for family scion Ajay Hinduja, said salaries alone did not accurately reflect pay for staff as they were also provided with board and lodgings.

She added that the notion of an 18-hour day was an exaggeration.

Ms Hayat said: “When they sit down to watch a movie with the kids, can that be considered work? I think not.”

The lawyer argued that one of the staff members had said her pay in Geneva was good compared to what she earned in India, adding that she kept returning to the job of her own free will.

Ms Hayat said that while it may be tempting to “break the rich to make the poor less poor”, the Geneva prosecutor’s office was conflating justice with social justice.

The Hinduja family is the richest in Britain with a net worth of more than £37bn, according to The Sunday Times rich list.

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

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

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

Gopichand Parmanand Hinduja
Gopi Hinduja has taken over the running of the family empire since his brother SP died in 2023 - Clara Molden for The Telegraph

The Swiss lawsuit has been filed against four members of the family, including 78-year-old Prakash Hinduja, his wife Kamal, their son Ajay and his wife Namrata.

During the trial, Ajay testified that he did not have a detailed knowledge of employees’ working conditions as recruitment was handled by the Hinduja Group in India.

However, he said that staff are now no longer paid informally and all hiring is done locally through a third party.

Prakash and Kamal did not attend the trial in Geneva, citing health reasons.

Mr Bertossa accused the pair of showing contempt for the court as they had been travelling freely between Dubai and Cannes.

He called for a prison sentence of five-and-a-half years for Prakash and Kamal and four-and-a-half years for Ajay and Namrata.

The prosecutor also demanded that the family cover 1m Swiss francs in court costs and pay 3.5m Swiss francs into a compensation fund for staff.

The Hinduja family and their staff last week reached a settlement in a civil case over worker exploitation, which was first filed six years ago.

However, the criminal case continues this week.

Romain Jordan, a lawyer for the Hinduja family, said: “This indictment is as excessive as it is detached from the legal and factual elements of the case. The prosecutor’s contempt shows an unacceptable bias, and no other family would have been treated in this way.

“Our clients remain determined to defend themselves and have confidence in the judicial system.”