What led to France grounding a plane with over 300 Indians?

What led to France grounding a plane with over 300 Indians?

What led to France grounding a plane with over 300 Indians?

The French Police have taken two men into custody, a day after officials grounded a plane carrying more than 300 Indian passengers at an airport in north-eastern part of the country. The charter flight had reportedly taken off from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and was on its way to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.

After departing from Dubai, the plane had landed at a small Vatry airport in eastern France on Thursday (21 December) afternoon for a technical stopover, reported Reuters. Situated 150 kilometres east of Paris, the Vatry airport serves mainly budget airlines.

Why was the flight grounded? How has India reacted? What has the airline said? Let’s take a detailed look.

France grounds aircraft

French authorities detained the Nicaragua-bound flight – operated by a Romanian charter company called Legend Airlines – after a tipoff from an “anonymous” informant that it was carrying passengers “likely to be victims of human trafficking”, the Paris Prosecutor’s Office told French news agency AFP.

According to Reuters, local officials in the eastern Marne region said on Friday (22 December) that a judicial probe into the “conditions and purposes” of the trip has been launched. France’s national anti-organised crime unit, JUNALCO, is heading the investigation.

Sources familiar with the case told AFP that minors were among the passengers who might have had plans to travel to Central America to try to enter the United States or Canada illegally.

france india flight
A civil protection vehicle parked outside the Vatry airport, north-eastern France where an Airbus A340 plane carrying 303 Indian passengers is grounded on the tarmac since 21 December. AFP

After the flight was grounded as it stopped for refueling at the Vatry Airport, passengers were initially kept on the plane. They were later allowed to leave the aircraft and allotted individual beds in the airport’s terminal building. The police sealed off the airport on Friday.

“The reception hall at Vatry airport was transformed into a waiting area with individual beds to provide passengers with the best possible reception conditions,” Reuters quoted the Marne prefect’s office as saying.

Special investigators are questioning the passengers and crew aboard the Airbus A340.

“Identity checks are being carried out on the 303 passengers and on the cabin crew,” the prosecutor’s office said, as per AFP.

The two men arrested for questioning were among the passengers.

France’s border police can initially detain foreign nationals for up to four days after they land in the European country. This can be further extended for eight days if a judge approves, and then another eight days.

The maximum detainment period is 26 days in case of exceptional circumstances.

India responds

The Indian Embassy in France reacted to the development on Friday, saying it was investigating the situation.

“French authorities informed us of a plane w/ 303 people, mostly Indian origin, from Dubai to Nicaragua detained on a technical halt at a French airport. Embassy team has reached & obtained consular access. We are investigating the situation, also ensuring wellbeing of passengers,” it wrote on X.

Airline says ‘has done nothing wrong’

Legend Airlines has denied any role in human trafficking. Liliana Bakayoko, identified as a lawyer for the Romanian charter company, told French news channel BFMTV that the airline was ready to cooperate with the French authorities.

“The company is not accused of anything…this situation causes significant harm, and is an attack on reputation. We hope that it will be quickly and officially confirmed that the company is not accused of anything,” ThePrint quoted the lawyer as telling BFM Business.

She claimed that a customer chartered the plane and “communicated the passenger information to the airline 48 hours before the flight”, according to Associated Press (AP).

Speaking to AFP, Bakayoko said the company had done “nothing wrong” and is at the “disposal of the French authorities”.

The lawyer, however, said Legend Airlines will take legal action if prosecutors file charges.

French law allows a sentence of up to 20 years for human trafficking. The United Nations describes the offence as “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.” Traffickers use “violence or fraudulent employment agencies and fake promises of education and job opportunities to trick and coerce their victims”, as per the international organisation.

With inputs from agencies