4 members of a billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

4 members of a billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers
Indian-Swiss billionaire family members Namrata Hinduja (L) and Ajay Hinduja (2ndR) arrive at the Geneva’s courthouse with their lawyers Yael Hayat (C) and Robert Assael (R) at the opening day of their trial for human trafficking on January 15, 2024. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 June 2024
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4 members of a billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

4 members of a billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

 

GENEVA: An Indian-born billionaire and three family members were sentenced to prison on Friday for exploiting domestic workers at their lakeside villa in Switzerland by seizing their passports, barring them from going out and making them work up to 18 hours a day.

A Swiss court dismissed more serious charges of human trafficking against 79-year-old tycoon Prakash Hinduja; his wife, Kamal; son Ajay and daughter-in-law Namrata on the grounds that the workers understood what they were getting into, at least in part. The four received between four and 4 1/2 years in prison.

A fifth defendant — Najib Ziazi, the family’s business manager — received an 18-month suspended sentence.

Lawyers for the members of the Swiss-Indian family — who were not present in court — said they would appeal the verdict.

The workers were mostly illiterate Indians who were paid not in Swiss francs but in Indian rupees, deposited in banks back home that they couldn’t access.

The four were convicted of “usury” for having taken advantage of their vulnerable immigrant staff to pay them a pittance.

“The employees’ inexperience was exploited,” judge Sabina Mascotto said in her judgment. “They had little education or none at all and had no knowledge of their rights.

“The defendants’ motives were selfish,” she said, adding that the Hindujas were motivated “by the desire for gain.”

The court acquitted them of the more serious charge of human trafficking, on the grounds that the workers had traveled to Switzerland willingly.

Dogs treated better

During the trial the family were accused of bringing servants from their native India and confiscating their passports once they got to Switzerland.
Prosecutor Yves Bertossa accused the Hindujas of spending “more on their dog than on their domestic employees.”
The family paid the household staff about 325 francs ($363) a month, up to 90 percent less than the going rate, the judge said.
“The four Hinduja defendants knew the weak position their employees were in and knew the law in Switzerland,” Mascotto said.
The family denied the allegations, claiming the prosecutors wanted to “do in the Hindujas.”
They had reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with the three employees who made the accusations against them, leading them to drop their legal action, said the defense.
Despite this, the prosecution had decided to pursue the case due to the seriousness of the charges.
Following the verdict, Bertossa requested an immediate detention order for Ajay and Namrata Hinduja, claiming a flight risk.
The judged denied it, accepting the defense argument that the family had ties to Switzerland. It noted that Kamal Hinduja was hospitalized in Monaco and the three other family members were at her bedside.
Both the elder Hindujas had been absent since the start of the trial for health reasons.
A statement from the defense lawyers announcing the appeal said they were “appalled and disappointment” at the court’s ruling.
But it added: “The family has full faith in the judicial process and remains confident that the truth will prevail.”

Denial
The defense had argued that the three employees received ample benefits, were not kept in isolation and were free to leave the villa.
“We are not dealing with mistreated slaves,” Nicolas Jeandin told the court.
Indeed, the employees “were grateful to the Hindujas for offering them a better life,” his fellow lawyer Robert Assael argued.
Representing Ajay Hinduja, lawyer Yael Hayat had slammed the “excessive” indictment, arguing the trial should be a question of “justice, not social justice.”
Namrata Hinduja’s lawyer Romain Jordan had also pleaded for acquittal, claiming the prosecutors were aiming to make an example of the family.
He argued the prosecution had failed to mention extra payments made to staff on top of their cash salaries.
“No employee was cheated out of his or her salary,” Assael added.
With interests in oil and gas, banking and health care, the Hinduja Group is present in 38 countries and employs around 200,000 people.

Excessie sentence?

Robert Assael, a lawyer for Kamal Hinduja, said he was “relieved” that the court threw out the trafficking charges but called the sentence excessive.
“The health of our clients is very poor, they are elderly people,” he said, explaining why the family was not in court. He said Hinduja’s 75-year-old wife was in intensive care and the family was with her.
Last week, it emerged in court that the family had reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs. Swiss authorities have seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewelry and assets in anticipation that they could be used to pay for legal fees and possible penalties.
Along with three brothers, Prakash Hinduja leads an industrial conglomerate in sectors including information technology, media, power, real estate and health care. Forbes magazine has put the Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion.
The family set up residence in Switzerland in the 1980s, and Hinduja was convicted in 2007 on similar charges. A separate tax case brought by Swiss authorities is pending against Hinduja, who obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000.
In this case, the court said the four were guilty of exploiting the workers and providing unauthorized employment, giving meager if any health benefits and paying wages that were less than one-tenth the pay for such jobs in Switzerland.
Prosecutors said workers described a “climate of fear” instituted by Kamal Hinduja. They were forced to work with little or no vacation time, and worked even later hours for receptions. They slept in the basement, sometimes on a mattress on the floor.




 


Australian companies hit by ‘large-scale technical outage’

Australian companies hit by ‘large-scale technical outage’
Updated 14 sec ago
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Australian companies hit by ‘large-scale technical outage’

Australian companies hit by ‘large-scale technical outage’
  • ‘Large-scale technical outage’ caused by an issue with a ‘third-party software platform’
  • Airport operator Aena also reported a computer systems ‘incident’ at all Spanish airports
SYDNEY: A large-scale outage wrought havoc on IT systems across Australia on Friday, with the country’s national broadcaster, its largest international airport, and a major telecommunications company reporting issues.
Australia’s National Cyber Security Coordinator said the “large-scale technical outage” was caused by an issue with a “third-party software platform.”
National broadcaster ABC said its systems had been crippled by a “major” glitch.
Photos posted online showed large queues forming at Sydney Airport, which said some airline operations and terminal services had been affected.
Some self-checkout terminals at one of the country’s largest supermarket chains displayed error messages.
Telecommunications firm Telstra also said some of its systems had been disrupted.
Spanish airport operator Aena on Friday also reported a computer systems “incident” at all Spanish airports which may cause flight delays.
“We are working to solve it as soon as possible. Meanwhile, operations are continuing with manual systems,” the airport operator said in a post on X platform.
A health booking system used by doctors in England is offline, medical officials said on X on Friday.

Oil tankers on fire off Singapore, crew members rescued

Oil tankers on fire off Singapore, crew members rescued
Updated 32 min 54 sec ago
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Oil tankers on fire off Singapore, crew members rescued

Oil tankers on fire off Singapore, crew members rescued
  • Singapore is Asia’s biggest oil trading hub and the world’s largest bunkering port

SINGAPORE: Two large oil tankers were on fire in waters near Singapore, the authorities said on Friday, raising concerns about the environment as well as the impact on operations at the world’s biggest refueling port.
The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said it was alerted to a fire on Friday at 6:15 a.m. (2215 GMT) onboard both a Singapore-flagged tanker, Hafnia Nile, and a Sao Tome and Principe-flagged tanker, Ceres I.
A helicopter had evacuated two crew members to Singapore General Hospital, it said, without elaborating.
In a statement on social media, Singapore Navy said the frigate RSS Supreme had rescued the crews from the vessels and was providing medical assistance. It did not immediately give details.
The vessels were about 55km (34 miles) northeast of the Singaporean island of Pedra Branca on the eastern approach to the Singapore Straits. Photographs released by the Navy showed thick black smoke billowing from one tanker.
The cause of the fires was not immediately clear.
The 74,000 deadweight-tons capacity Panamax tanker Hafnia Nile (IMO 9766217) was carrying about 300,000 barrels of naphtha, according to ship-tracking data from Kpler and LSEG.
It was not immediately clear what fuel Ceres I (IMO 9229439) was carrying. The tanker is a very-large-crude-carrier (VLCC) of 300,000 deadweight-tons capacity and was last marked as carrying Iranian crude between March to April, ship-tracking data showed.
Singapore is Asia’s biggest oil trading hub and the world’s largest bunkering port and surrounding waters are vital trade waterways between Asia and Europe and the Middle East.


US-bound Air India plane makes emergency landing in Russia

US-bound Air India plane makes emergency landing in Russia
Updated 19 July 2024
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US-bound Air India plane makes emergency landing in Russia

US-bound Air India plane makes emergency landing in Russia
  • The Boeing 777 aircraft, carrying 225 passengers and 19 flight crew, made a precautionary landing safely in the Russian region of Siberia at the Krasnoyarsk International Airport

NEW DELHI: An Air India airplane flying from Delhi to San Francisco made an emergency landing in Russia after the crew detected a potential issue in the cargo hold area, the airline said on Friday, its second such incident on the route in just over a year.
Many carriers, including US and European Union airlines, avoid Russian airspace following the war in Ukraine, but Air India uses that route, giving it a flying time and cost advantage on US-bound flights.
The Boeing 777 aircraft, carrying 225 passengers and 19 flight crew, made a precautionary landing safely in the Russian region of Siberia at the Krasnoyarsk International Airport, the airline said in a statement.
It added Air India was “concerned about the passengers and staff and are making every effort possible to operate the ferry flight as soon as possible.”
The airport said the flight’s crew had been moved to hotels, and passengers were in the international departure area, which angered some of those stranded, according to social media posts.
Mayank Gupta, whose mother was on the flight, wrote on X he was “sad and angry” that her medicines and luggage remained on the airplane.
A passenger said on X that people were struggling to get food and water, posting a photo showing some passengers sleeping on the floor inside the airport area.
In another statement on Friday, Air India said representatives from the Indian consulate in Moscow traveled to Krasnoyarsk overnight and “are working with Russian authorities to allow passengers to move to hotels, which have been on standby throughout the night.”
The airport said the plane landed due to an activated smoke detector. Regulatory clearances have been obtained for a relief flight that will depart Mumbai at 11 a.m. India time (0530 GMT) on Friday and ferry the guests out of the airport, Air India said.
Shortly after the incident, Russia’s civil aviation agency, Rosaviatsiya, said the aircraft had taxied to a parking spot after landing and there had been no signs of a fire or smoke onboard.
Boeing and a spokesperson for the US State Department deferred to Air India for comment on the incident.
Russia banned many foreign carriers from its airspace in retaliation for Western sanctions over the Ukraine war, and many countries and airlines also banned their planes from crossing over all or part of Russia.
The bans have redrawn air routes and upset business models for some airlines that now need to fly around the world’s largest country. United Airlines canceled many of its non-stop US-India flights due to the issue.
In June 2023, an Air India Boeing plane on the same route was stranded for a day after reporting a technical issue. Passengers on that flight, including US citizens, were housed in makeshift accommodation at Russia’s remote Magadan airport.
Air India sent an aircraft a day later to pick up the stranded passengers.


Donald Trump vows to end wars, restore US power if elected again

Donald Trump vows to end wars, restore US power if elected again
Updated 11 min 5 sec ago
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Donald Trump vows to end wars, restore US power if elected again

Donald Trump vows to end wars, restore US power if elected again
  • The former president sought to paint a dire picture of the world under his successor Joe Biden

MILWAUKEE: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump promised Thursday to bring an end to raging international crises and restore American prestige on the world stage, saying he could “stop wars with a telephone call.”
The former president sought to paint a dire picture of the world under his successor Joe Biden, telling the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee that the planet is “teetering on the edge of World War III.”
“We will restore peace, stability and harmony all throughout the world,” Trump said, without giving any detail on how he might do that.
“Under our leadership the United States will be respected again. No nation will question our power, no enemy will doubt our might, our borders will be totally secure.”

 


Trump placed the blame for conflicts around the world squarely on Biden — even those with roots stretching back far before the Democrat took office.
“There is an international crisis the likes of which the world has seldom been part of... war is now raging in Europe, in the Middle East, a growing specter of conflict hangs over Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines and all of Asia,” he said.
He vowed to change all that if he is elected to a second term in the White House.
“I will end every single international crisis that the current administration has created, including the horrible war with Russia and Ukraine,” Trump said. But “to achieve this future, we must first rescue our nation from failed and even incompetent leadership.”
He also said he wanted Americans held abroad to be released — or else.
“The entire world, I tell you this: we want our hostages back and they better be back before I assume office or you will be paying a very big price,” said Trump — again failing to give any specifics.
He pledged to build a version of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system for the United States, ignoring the fact that the system is designed for short-range threats and would be ill-suited to defending against intercontinental missiles that are the main danger to the country.
And he suggested that Kim Jong Un — the reclusive North Korean dictator whom he met in person during his presidency, and whose country possesses a nuclear arsenal — longed to see him back in the White House.
“I get along with him, he’d like to see me back too. I think he misses me, if you want to know,” Trump said.

 


Bangladesh wakes to torched government buildings, internet blackout

Bangladesh wakes to torched government buildings, internet blackout
Updated 19 July 2024
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Bangladesh wakes to torched government buildings, internet blackout

Bangladesh wakes to torched government buildings, internet blackout
  • This week's unrest has killed at least 39 people including 32 on Thursday, with the toll expected to rise further
  • Protesters have called for an end to a quota system that reserves over half of civil service posts for specific groups

Dhaka: Bangladesh woke Friday to survey destruction left by the deadliest day of ongoing student protests so far, which saw government buildings torched by demonstrators and a nationwide internet blackout put into effect.

This week's unrest has killed at least 39 people including 32 on Thursday, with the toll expected to rise further after reports of clashes in nearly half of the country's 64 districts.

A police statement issued after a near-total shutdown of the nation's internet said protesters had torched, vandalised and carried out "destructive activities" on numerous police and government offices.

Among them was the Dhaka headquarters of state broadcaster Bangladesh Television, which remains offline after hundreds of incensed students stormed the premises and set fire to a building.

"About 100 policemen were injured in the clashes yesterday," Faruk Hossain, a spokesman for the capital's police force, told AFP. "Around 50 police booths were burnt".

Anti-quota protesters clash with the police in Dhaka on July 18, 2024. (AFP)

The police statement said that if the destruction continued, they would "be forced to make maximum use of law".

Police fire was the cause of at least two-thirds of deaths reported so far, based on descriptions given to AFP by hospital staff.

At least 26 districts around the country reported clashes on Thursday, broadcaster Independent Television reported.

The network said more than 700 had been wounded through the day including 104 police officers and 30 journalists.

Near-daily marches this month have called for an end to a quota system that reserves more than half of civil service posts for specific groups, including children of veterans from the country's 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.

Critics say the scheme benefits children of pro-government groups that back Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, 76, who has ruled the country since 2009 and won her fourth consecutive election in January after a vote without genuine opposition.

Hasina's government is accused by rights groups of misusing state institutions to entrench its hold on power and stamp out dissent, including by the extrajudicial killing of opposition activists.

Her administration this week ordered schools and universities to close indefinitely as police step up efforts to bring the deteriorating law and order situation under control.

Mubashar Hasan, a Bangladesh expert at the University of Oslo in Norway, told AFP Thursday that the protests had grown into a wider expression of discontent with Hasina's autocratic rule.

"They are protesting against the repressive nature of the state," he told AFP. "The students are in fact calling her a dictator."

Students have vowed to continue their campaign despite Hasina giving a national address on the now-offline state broadcaster seeking to calm the situation.

"Our first demand is that the prime minister must apologise to us," protester Bidisha Rimjhim, 18, told AFP on Thursday.

"Secondly, justice must be ensured for our killed brothers," she added.

London-based watchdog Netblocks said Friday that a "nation-scale" internet shutdown remained in effect.

"The disruption prevents families from contacting each other and stifles efforts to document human rights violations," it wrote in a social media post on X.