Two held after France grounds plane over suspected ‘human trafficking’Fri, 22 Dec 2023 22:35:52 GMT

French police were questioning two men Friday a day after officials grounded a Nicaragua-bound plane carrying more than 300 Indian passengers over suspected “human trafficking,” prosecutors said.The Airbus A340 had flown in from the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, landing at Vatry airport in eastern France for a technical stopover.It was held by French authorities after an anonymous tip-off that it was carrying passengers “likely to be victims of human trafficking,” the Paris prosecutors office told AFP. The two men in custody were among the passengers.”Identity checks are being carried on the 303 passengers and on the cabin crew,” said the prosecutor’s office. They were also checking the conditions in which the passengers were being transported and the purpose of their journey.A source close to the case said that minors were among the passengers.The national anti-organised crime unit JUNALCO is leading the investigation, said prosecutors.According to a source familiar with the case, the passengers might have planned to travel to Central America in order to attempt illegal entry into the United States or Canada.After landing in France, they were first kept on the aircraft, but then let out and given individual beds in the terminal building.They were set to remain at the airport overnight Friday, local authorities said.The Indian embassy in France said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter, that the authorities in Paris had informed them of the situation.”Embassy team has reached & obtained consular access,” it added. “We are investigating the situation, also ensuring wellbeing of passengers.”On Friday, police and gendarmes cordoned off the entire airport and white tarpaulin sheets covered the bay windows of the airport’s arrivals hall, an AFP journalist at the scene noted.- Airline ‘has done nothing wrong’ -The prefecture in the north-eastern department of Marne said the A340, operated by Romanian company Legend Airlines, “remained grounded on the tarmac at Vatry airport following its landing” on Thursday.Legend Air has a small fleet of four aircraft, according to the Flightradar website.The plane had been due to refuel and was carrying 303 Indian nationals who had probably been working in the UAE, it said.Liliana Bakayoko, who said she was a lawyer for the airline, told AFP the company believed it had done nothing wrong, had committed no offence “and is at the disposal of the French authorities”.But the airline would take legal action if the prosecutors file charges, she added.The Vatry airport, located 150 kilometres (90 miles) east of Paris, serves mostly budget airlines.Border police can initially hold a foreign national for up to four days if they land in France and are prevented from travelling on to their intended destination.French law allows for that period to be extended to eight days if a judge approves it, then another eight days in exceptional circumstances, up to a maximum of 26 days.Human trafficking carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in France.cor-meh-jpa-kau/pvh/swi/jh