The flight with over 300 passengers was detained for four days while refueling outside of Paris over suspected human trafficking
France released on Monday a charter plane with over 300 people on board, mainly Indians, after keeping it grounded for four days near Paris on suspicions of human trafficking. The flight was originally headed to Nicaragua but has been sent back to India and is due to land in Mumbai on Monday afternoon, according to the PTI news agency.
The Airbus A340 was held at Vatry Airport, 150km east of Paris, after arriving Thursday from Dubai for refueling, after an anonymous tip that it was carrying potential victims of human trafficking. All passengers, including a 21-month-old baby, were stuck at the airport over the next few days.
Eleven of the passengers were unaccompanied minors who were put under special administrative care, according to media reports. AP reported that two of the passengers were detained amid a French probe into alleged human trafficking by an organized criminal group.
AFP, citing sources, said that the Indians were likely workers in the UAE who were bound for Nicaragua as a jumping-off spot before heading to the US or Canada. In 2021, the White House named Nicaragua among 17 nations that were not doing enough to combat human trafficking and threatened to hit the country with sanctions.
On Saturday, the Indian embassy in France posted on X (formerly Twitter) that it was working with the French government for the welfare of the Indians at the airport and for an “early resolution” of the situation. New Delhi has not officially commented on the grounding of the plane or on why its destination has been changed.
After questioning the passengers for two days and holding emergency hearings at the airport to determine whether to keep the flight grounded longer, the French authorities on Sunday gave the go-ahead for the plane to leave, the local administration said in a statement. The seizure order for the airliner was lifted on the same day, according to a statement by the administration after lawyers at the hearings reportedly protested the French government’s handling of the situation.
Cots had been distributed to the stranded passengers and regular meals and showers were also provided.
The plane was flying under the auspices of Legend Airlines, a Romanian company that operates several airliners, according to media reports. Legend Airlines lawyer Liliana Bakayoko denied the company’s role in possible human trafficking. She told AP that a “partner” company was responsible for verifying identification documents, which it communicated to the airline two days before the flight took off.
Meanwhile, a Times of India report suggested that this episode could be linked to a 2022 incident in which an Indian couple along with two children, aged 11 and three, tried to enter the US from Canada as a part of a larger group, but froze to death but in -35°C weather. Their bodies were discovered in Canada’s Manitoba, approximately 12m from the US border. The alleged kingpin in that case, Shashi Kiran Reddy, who was detained but then released by police in India’s Giujarat state for lack of evidence, could be behind the Nicaragua flight case, according to the report.
The newspaper’s sources claim that Reddy has been running a human smuggling network for 15 years, arranging chartered flights from Dubai to Nicaragua from where passengers are taken to North America through perilous routes via land or sea.
December 25, 2023 at 04:53PM