How Britain’s Richest Family Went From Celebrity Parties to Prison Cells

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

In a stunning fall from grace, four members of the billionaire Hinduja family were sentenced to jail in Switzerland late last week over allegations that they subjected their household staff to illegally oppressive conditions.

The conviction will surely cause their roster of high-profile connections to pull back from the family, which remains Britain’s wealthiest clan. The Sunday Times pegs their net worth at more than $45 billion. (Forbes estimates a more modest $20 billion.)

Prakash Hinduja, who chairs the European operation of the family’s namesake conglomerate, received a four-and-a-half-year sentence, as did his wife, Kamal. Their son Ajay received a four-year sentence, alongside his wife, Namrata.

U.K.’s Richest Family Spent More on Dog Than Paying Staff, Court Hears

According to prosecutors, the Hindujas spent more money on their dog than on staff members at their Lake Geneva compound. Servants were allegedly coerced to work up to 18-hour days, in some cases earning less than $10. The family was also accused of restricting their employees’ ability to travel, including by taking their passports.

Swiss prosecutor Yves Bertossa accused the four members of the Hinduja family of spending more per year on their dog than on pay for members of their staff.

In the most egregious case, prosecutors said, a staff member was allegedly paid less than $8 “to work for up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week,” The Telegraph reported.

The Hindujas were also accused of denying their employees freedom of mobility by taking their passports and preventing them from leaving “the house without their employer’s permission.”

Lawyers for the Hindujas disputed the allegations. “No other family would have been treated in this way. Our clients remain determined to defend themselves and have confidence in the judicial system,” one of their attorneys, Romain Jordan, said prior to the conviction.

The Hindujas were charged with human trafficking, in addition to the allegations of exploitative and illegal employment. They beat the trafficking charge but expressed outrage at their conviction on other counts.

“Our clients have 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 [judgment] not effective,” their attorneys said in a statement.

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.

The Hindujas owe their wealth to their Indian-based conglomerate, which has a vast number of global subdivisions specializing in chemicals, banking, media, real estate, and other sectors. The company, which says it has more than 200,000 employees, was founded by Prakash Hinduja’s father, Parmanand.

It’s not yet clear how the convictions will impact the business’ operations. Other family members will likely step in if the defendants are ultimately sent to jail.

Prakash, known as “PP,” began working for the company in Iran after graduating from college, then relocated to Geneva to lead the European outfit. He has lived in Monaco since 2008.

It wasn’t long ago that the Hindujas were gladhanding with dignitaries and celebrities.

In 2023, Prakash and Kamal were photographed with Princess Anne—daughter of Queen Elizabeth—at the unveiling of Hinduja Group’s new luxury hotel in London. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reportedly also dropped by, and Andrea Bocelli and Andrew Lloyd Webber performed.

Prakash and his brother Ashok previously met with Juan Carlos I, the former King of Spain; Prakash has also posed with a South African minister, the president of Nigeria, and the Dalai Lama, and has soaked up the Cannes Film Festival in the South of France.

Other members of the Hinduja dynasty who were not named in the criminal complaint have schmoozed with Jennifer Lopez and Nicole Scherzinger, King Charles, and former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Perhaps most infamously, Labour politician Peter Mandelson resigned as a British minister under Tony Blair in 2001 amid allegations that he helped Prakash’s late brother, Srichand, gain U.K. citizenship in exchange for the family’s donation to a public project.

“I do not accept in any way that I have acted improperly in respect of any application for naturalization as a British citizen,” Mandelson said at the time.

As The Guardian reported in 2001, “the tentacles of the Hindujas have touched prominent figures in all the main parties,” and roughly “a dozen candidates at the last election, Labour and Tory, [were] rumoured at Westminster to have received donations from the brothers.”

The outlet noted that some members of the family were “facing possible corruption charges in India over an arms scandal.” The charges against them were later thrown out.

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