In a surprising turn of events, the Airbus A340 bound for Nicaragua, detained near Paris airport due to human trafficking concerns, has taken off for Mumbai. The departure, which occurred around 7:30 PM IST, follows hours of uncertainty and reports suggesting that a significant number of passengers were reluctant to return to their home countries.
Out of the original 303 passengers, 276 were on board the departing plane. Notably, two individuals were initially held by French police over suspected involvement in human trafficking. However, a judicial source later confirmed their release, stating that the passengers had boarded willingly. Meanwhile, 25 others, including two minors, have sought asylum in France, with their applications slated for processing at Charles-de-Gaulle airport.
Liliana Bakayoko, legal counsel for Romania’s Legend Airlines, expressed bewilderment over the situation, stating, “The situation is confusing… Some of the passengers were unhappy because they wanted to continue their journey to Nicaragua as planned.” Bakayoko had earlier assured that the plane would leave France at 10 am local time, landing late Monday or early Tuesday, with necessary clearances obtained.
Contradicting reports emerged throughout the day, with Bakayoko indicating that only 200-250 passengers had agreed to return, excluding those in police custody or seeking asylum. Allegedly, some passengers spoke Tamil and Hindi, adding another layer of complexity to the situation.
Earlier announcements suggested the plane’s departure at noon, contrary to Bakayoko’s earlier statement. The Airbus A340, a charter service from Dubai, had landed for refueling at the airport, approximately 160 km from Paris, before being grounded based on a tip-off regarding potential human trafficking victims. Sources hinted at a crime syndicate attempting to smuggle individuals into the United States via Nicaragua, prompting investigations by France’s anti-organised crime unit, JUNALCO.
Human trafficking in France carries severe penalties, with a potential sentence of up to 20 years. Sunday saw initial indications that the plane could leave after local judges interrogated all on board. Foreign nationals can be detained for extended periods upon arrival under French law.
Relief followed as authorities confirmed the departure, and Indian citizens on board were granted consular access. The Indian government, in collaboration with its French counterpart, is actively working to resolve the situation. Passengers were provided basic amenities at the airport, including makeshift beds, food, water, toilets, and showers.
Legend Airlines, the operator of the Airbus A340, maintains its innocence, expressing readiness to assist authorities in their investigation. The airline also announced intentions to seek damages from the client who chartered the plane, emphasizing its commitment to resolving the matter.
As the Airbus A340 heads towards Mumbai, the controversy surrounding its detention near Paris continues to raise questions, with ongoing investigations aimed at unraveling the complexities of the situation.