Plane with 303 Indians grounded over ‘human trafficking’ freed to leave France | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Plane with 303 Indians grounded over 'human trafficking' freed to leave France, may head to Mumbai today

Dec 25, 2023 09:55 AM IST

Legend Airlines lawyer Liliana Bakayoko the company hoped the plane could head to Mumbai on Monday “with as many passengers as possible”.

A passenger plane grounded for a human trafficking investigation while carrying 303 Indians to Nicaragua was on Sunday allowed to leave France's Vatry Airport in Champagne country after four days. A lawyer for the Romanian company Legend Airlines said the plane would take many of the stranded passengers back to India on Monday, news agency The Associated Press reported.

The Airbus A340 which was grounded over suspected "human trafficking" at Vatry airport in France.(AFP)
The Airbus A340 which was grounded over suspected "human trafficking" at Vatry airport in France.(AFP)

Local authorities were working through Christmas Eve on formalities to allow some passengers to leave the small Vatry Airport, regional prosecutor Annick Browne told AP. All of the passengers, including a 21-month-old child, had been stuck in the airport terminal since Thursday.

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Two passengers were detained as part of a special French investigation into suspected human trafficking by an organised criminal group. Several others requested asylum in France, according to the local administration. Prosecutors said 11 passengers were unaccompanied minors who were put under special administrative care.

Plan with Indians grounded in France: What we know so far

  • On Thursday, The Nicaragua-bound Airbus A340 and its Indian passengers was held at Vatry airport, 150 kilometres east of Paris, when it arrived from Dubai, the UAE, for refuelling, after an anonymous tip-off that it was carrying potential victims of human trafficking.
  • The passengers of the flight were put up at the airport during the investigation. Beds, toilets and showers were installed, the local prefecture said, while police have prevented the media and outsiders from entering the airport.
  • The passengers included 11 unaccompanied minors, according to Paris prosecutors. Twelve of the passengers have requested asylum, a source close to the case told news agency AFP.
  • On Saturday, the Indian embassy in Paris posted on X that "embassy consular staff" were on site to working with French authorities "for the welfare" of detained passengers for an “early resolution of the situation”.
  • The 30 crew members were not detained. Some handled the Dubai-Vatry leg and others were to take over for the flight to Managua. According to Flightradar24, Legend Airlines has just four planes.
  • After questioning the passengers for two days, French prosecutors on Sunday gave the go-ahead for the plane to leave, and full approval for its departure is expected on Monday, the local prefecture said in a statement.
  • The airport was turned into a makeshift courtroom on Sunday as judges, lawyers and translators filled the terminal to carry out emergency hearings to determine whether to keep the Indians sequestered any longer, AP reported.
  • The hearings were halted midway because of a dispute over the procedure used to block the Indians in the airport, and a decision on next steps was expected overnight, the prosecutor said on Sunday, the report added.
  • The seizure order for the airliner was lifted Sunday morning, a decision that “makes it possible to contemplate the passengers in the waiting area being rerouted,″ according to a statement from the Marne administration.
  • The French Civil Aviation Authority then set about trying to get the necessary permissions for the plane to take off once again, which should be in place “no later than Monday morning,” according to the prefecture.
  • Legend Airlines lawyer Liliana Bakayoko told AP that the company hoped the plane could head to Mumbai on Monday “with as many passengers as possible”.
  • She estimated around 280 passengers should be able to leave. The prosecutor and regional administration could not confirm an exact figure.
  • Local officials, medics and volunteers installed cots and ensured regular meals and showers for those held in the airport. But lawyers at Sunday's hearings protested authorities' overall handling of the strange situation.
  • Foreigners can be held up to four days in a transit zone for police investigations in France, after which a special judge must rule on whether to extend that for eight days.
  • Prosecutors wouldn’t comment on what kind of trafficking was alleged, or whether the passengers' ultimate destination was the US, which has seen a surge in Indians crossing the Mexico-US border this year.
  • The 15 crew members were questioned and released Saturday, Bakayoko said. She said the airline denied any role in possible human trafficking. A “partner” company that chartered the plane was responsible for verifying identification documents of each passenger and communicated their passport information to the airline 48 hours before the flight, Bakayoko said.
  • Indian citizens were arrested 41,770 times entering the US illegally from Mexico in the US government’s budget year that ended September 30, more than double from 18,308 the previous year.

(With inputs from AP, AFP)

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