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Indian billionaire family accused of exploiting domestic help in Switzerland

It is estimated that by underpaying their staff, the family was able to economise CHF5 million over 20 years. Keystone

Four members of a wealthy family of Indian origin are under investigation for paying around six Indian domestic staff a pittance for working in their home near Geneva. They were brought to the country on a tourist visa and their passports were allegedly also confiscated. 

This content was published on October 22, 2018 - 16:04
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According to the Le Temps paperExternal link, police raided the residence of the billionaire in Cologny, outside Geneva, in April following a complaint made by one of the staff members. 

Geneva investigators were told that the Indian domestic workers were paid between CHF140 and CHF520 ($140.5 and $522) per month and were made to work up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week. One of the employees claimed that he had not left the house in ten years. 

“None of the employees has ever obtained, or even applied for, a residence or work permit in Switzerland, even though they lived and worked most of the time in Cologny," states a judicial document from the proceedings, which Le Temps managed to access. 

The Geneva Public Prosecutor's Office confirmed to Le Temps that four people were arrested on April 12, 2018 on suspicion of usury or even human trafficking and violations of the federal law on foreign workers involving three domestic staff. 

By paying the Indian staff salaries that were more than ten times lower that the acceptable rates, the household was allegedly able to save CHF20,000 a month over 20 years. Le Temps estimated that the savings amount to CHF5 million. 

At a hearing in April, the family denied any wrongdoing. They justified their actions by claiming the Indian staff were not there to serve but help around a bit and were considered as family members. They also claimed that long-serving aides could expect to receive a large sum of money on their retirement. 

In addition to the Cologny home, the Geneva courts also searched the family company, as well as the office that manages the family's interests in the Old City of Geneva. The equivalent of more than CHF300,000 francs in cash was seized from safes for “safekeeping”. The case could also have tax implications: employees have claimed that the patriarch of the family, officially domiciled in Monaco, spends almost the whole year in Switzerland. 

UPDATE: The name of the family that appeared in a first version of this story has been removed pending the outcome of a court case between the family and the newspaper, Le Temps.

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