France grounds Nicaragua-bound plane from Dubai with more than 300 Indians over suspected ‘human trafficking’, 2 held

Team India Sentinels Saturday 23rd of December 2023 06:31 AM

A Legend Airlines A340-300. (Photo courtesy Legend Airlines.)

New Delhi: France has grounded an Airbus A340 with over 300 Indians on board when the plane landed at the Vatry airport, 150 kilometres east of Paris, at the Marne prefecture for a technical stopover, on Friday. The flight, which is operated by Romanian company Legend Airlines, took off from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and was bound for Nicaragua in Central America.

According to several media reports citing French authorities, among the passengers were 13 unaccompanied minors as well as accompanied minors, including at least one infant.

France is yet to release the details of the passengers.

French authorities have informed the Indian embassy on the development. On Saturday, the Indian embassy in Paris said consular officials have reached the Varty airport and the mission was working for “a rapid resolution of the situation”.

According to a report on France 24 citing the Paris prosecutor’s office, French authorities held the plane and sequestered it at the Varty airport after an anonymous tip-off that it was carrying “likely victims of human trafficking”. It also said two men have been taken into custody for questioning.

Authorities believe that the Indian passengers were trying to reach Central America from where they can attempt to enter the United States or Canada illegally.

French news outlet Le Monde reported that investigators from a specialized French organized crime unit – JUNALCO, the French border police, and aviation gendarmes are working on the case. It also said French prosecutor’s office said authorities were carrying out identity checks on the 303 passengers and on the cabin crew.

According to a Gujarat Samachar report, at least 96 out of the 303 passengers on board the aircraft were Gujarat-origin Indians. India Sentinels cannot yet verify the authenticity of this report.

Meanwhile, the passengers who were initially kept inside the sequestered plane were let out and taken to the airport’s terminal building, where there were given individual beds and other things at an enclosure.

According to France 24, the French border police can hold a foreign national for up to four days if they land in the country and can be prevented from travelling on to their intended destination. And if a judge allows, such foreign nationals can be held for eight days and up to 26 days in “exceptional circumstances”.

Also, people convicted for human trafficking can be sentenced up to 20 years in prison.

About Legend Airlines

Legend Airlines, whose chartered Airbus A340 carrying the suspected Indian victims of human trafficking, is operated by a Romanian company. According to Flightradar, a leading aviation-tracking website, Legend Airlines operates a small fleet of four aircraft.

Following the incident, French authorities questioned the 15 crew members of the Legend Airlines plane were questioned. However, they have been released since.

The company’s lawyer, Liliana Bakayoko, told media that Legend Airlines was “deeply shaken” by the incident. She stressed that the company has done nothing wrong.

She said a partner company that chartered the plane, and that company was responsible for verifying the identity documents of each passenger. Bakayoko said the partner company had communicated the passengers’ passport details to Legend Airlines just 48 hours before the chartered flight took off from Dubai.

However, she told AFP that if French prosecutors pressed charges against Legend Airlines, the airline would take legal action.


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