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Plane with 303 Indians, grounded near Paris on suspicion of human trafficking, departs for Mumbai
Image courtesy: Legend Airlines website

Plane with 303 Indians, grounded near Paris on suspicion of human trafficking, departs for Mumbai

| @indiablooms | 25 Dec 2023, 08:58 pm

New Delhi: An Airbus A340 bound for Nicaragua, carrying 303 passengers, mainly Indians, and earlier grounded at a Paris airport due to suspected human trafficking links, has reportedly departed for Mumbai, French newspaper Le Monde reported late on Monday.

The departure comes after hours of uncertainty about the plane's status, with several reports indicating that many passengers were reluctant to return to their home countries.

The Legend Airlines flight was detained in France following an anonymous tipoff. The plane was due for refuelling at Vatry airport near Paris.

"The situation is confusing," Liliana Bakayoko, legal counsel for Romania's Legend Airlines, to whom the plane is registered, told a French TV channel and radio network earlier today.

"Some of the passengers were unhappy... because they wanted to continue their journey to Nicaragua as planned."

Earlier today she said that the plane would depart from France at 10 am local time and reach at its destination late Monday or early Tuesday, according to a report in the media.

She also told the French newspaper that necessary clearance had been obtained.

At that time, she mentioned that only 200-250 passengers had agreed to return. This included passengers who were not in police custody and those who had not sought asylum in France.

Soon after, police told Le Monde that the plane would not depart “before noon.”

At least two passengers have not been authorised to depart and are reportedly detained.

It is believed that these individuals may face charges for allegedly conspiring to help undocumented foreigners enter the country, reported Le Monde.

Also, around a dozen other passengers have applied for asylum, and their current status remains unknown. Reports suggest that among the passengers, some spoke Tamil, while others spoke Hindi.

News agency AFP reported that the plane, suspected of being part of a crime syndicate involved in smuggling people into the United States through Nicaragua, is now under investigation by France's anti-organised crime unit, JUNALCO.

Human trafficking, the suspected crime, carries a sentence of up to 20 years in France.

On Sunday, authorities had indicated that the plane could leave after questioning all on board by local judges.

However, under French law, foreign nationals can be detained for extended periods upon arrival.

Indian citizens aboard the flight have been granted consular access, and the Indian government is working with the French authorities to address the situation.

Indian Embassy in France posted on X: "Thank French Gov and Vatry Airport for quick resolution of the situation enabling Indian passengers to return home & hospitality. Also for working closely with embassy (sic) team, present throughout at the site to ensure welfare and smooth & safe return. Thank agencies (sic) in India, too."

The passengers had been provided with makeshift beds, food, water, and access to toilets and showers directly at the airport, according to officials.

Legend Airlines has asserted that it has done nothing wrong and is willing to cooperate with authorities in the investigation. The airline has said it wants to pursue damages from the client who chartered its plane.

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