TOPSHOT – This photograph taken on December 23, 2023, shows the Airbus A340 which was grounded over suspected “human trafficking” at Vatry airport, north-eastern France. The Airbus A340 has been held at Vatry airport, 150 kilometres (95 miles) east of Paris, since arriving from Dubai following an anonymous tip-off that it was carrying potential victims of human trafficking. Thirteen unaccompanied minors are among the more than 300 Indian passengers. (Photo by FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI / AFP) (Photo by FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP via Getty Images)
A PLANE with close to 300 Indian passengers detained near Paris over suspicions of human trafficking took off on Monday (25) for Mumbai after being cleared for departure by French police.
The Airbus A340 carrying 303 Indians had been bound for Nicaragua when it was detained last Thursday (21) at Vatry airport, east of Paris, where it had stopped for refuelling.
It had arrived from Dubai and there was an anonymous tip-off that it was carrying potential victims of human trafficking.
Of the original 303 people on the passenger list, 276 were on the plane that took off just before 3:00 pm local time (1400 GMT).
Among the passengers staying behind were two people questioned by French police over suspected people trafficking, but a judicial source said they had now been released after establishing that the 303 passengers had boarded the plane on their own free will.
Their suspects’ release came because “the investigating judge was able to resist media pressure in this case”, said their lawyer, Salome Cohen.
The others, 25 people of whom two are minors, have sought asylum in France, the prefecture said. Their applications would be processed at Charles-de-Gaulle airport.
After questioning the passengers for two days, French prosecutors on Sunday (24) gave the go-ahead for the plane to leave.
A source close to the inquiry said the Indians were likely workers in the United Arab Emirates who had been bound for Nicaragua as a jumping off spot for the United States or Canada.
The passengers of the flight, operated by Romanian company Legend Airlines, were put up at the airport during the investigation.
Beds, toilets and showers were installed, the local prefecture said, while police have prevented the press and outsiders from entering the airport.
The passengers included 11 unaccompanied minors, according to Paris prosecutors.
The Indian embassy in Paris on Saturday (23) posted on X that “embassy consular staff” were on site to work with French authorities “for the welfare” of detained passengers for an “early resolution of the situation”.
The authorisation for the plane to leave came after a French court ruled that any further detention of three of the passengers would be illegal.
But Genevieve Colas, coordinator at the Secours Catholique-Caritas association, said the release of the plane had “surprised” her.
“What if they really are victims of people trafficking,” she asked. “Then it wouldn’t be right to just let them take off to another country.”
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.