A startling incident unfolded as a Nicaragua-bound plane carrying 303 Indian passengers from Dubai was grounded in France over suspicions of human trafficking, leading to the detention of two individuals, as confirmed by local authorities on Friday.
The development emerged following a tip-off received by officials, indicating potential human trafficking concerns aboard the flight. The probe was subsequently taken over by the national anti-organized crime unit JUNALCO, as reported by ‘Le Monde’ and confirmed by news agency PTI.
Operated by Romanian company Legend Airlines, the A340 aircraft landed at Vatry airport, situated 150 kilometers east of Paris, where it was detained upon arrival on Thursday. The passengers, believed to have been predominantly working in the UAE, were taken into custody for questioning, prompting a thorough investigation.
The airport premises were sealed off by the police as investigators questioned every individual on board. Passengers were relocated from the aircraft to the main terminal, where arrangements were made for their overnight stay, with individual bedding provided by the Marne region administration.
Reports from sources close to the case suggested a possible intention among the passengers to travel to Central America with intentions of illegal entry into the US or Canada. Additionally, it was revealed that minors were among the 303 passengers under investigation.
The Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed ongoing identity verifications of both passengers and cabin crew, alongside an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the passengers’ transportation and their intended destination.
Responding to the developments, Liliana Bakayoko, a lawyer representing Legend Airlines, asserted the company’s innocence in the matter, stating their compliance with procedures and readiness to cooperate with French authorities. Bakayoko mentioned the responsibility of a customer, who chartered the flight and verified passengers’ identities 48 hours prior to departure.
The French law allows for an initial four-day detention of foreign nationals arriving in France, extendable up to 26 days in specific circumstances. The offense of human trafficking in France carries a severe penalty of up to 20 years.
The Indian Embassy in France confirmed its involvement, ensuring consular access and investigating the situation while prioritizing the well-being of the passengers involved.