Plane carrying 303 passengers, mostly Indians, expected to take off on Monday for India, says airline’s lawyer

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A plane carrying 303 passengers, mostly Indians, is expected to take off on Monday morning for India, three days after they were detained by the French authorities at an airport near Paris over suspected “human trafficking”, according to a local media report. The Nicaragua-bound flight that took off from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates carrying 303 passengers was grounded at the Vatry airport, 150 km east of Paris, on Thursday over suspected “human trafficking”.

On Sunday, the French authorities allowed the A340 aircraft, operated by Romanian company Legend Airlines, to resume its journey. The plane is expected to take off Monday morning at around 10 am (local time), the lawyer for the airline, Liliana Bakayoko, was quoted as saying by BFM TV, a French news broadcast television and radio network. The plane is likely to take off towards Mumbai in India, the country from which the passengers, potentially victims of human trafficking, originate, it said.

“We are very relieved, we were looking forward to this,” the lawyer said. This departure should concern between 200 and 250 passengers, according to the lawyer’s estimates. All the passengers who are not in police custody and who have not applied for asylum are expected to leave, the channel reported. According to some reports, nearly four dozen passengers have filed asylum applications. The lawyer added that the company will continue to be “available to investigators”, and “will seek damages from its client because it has suffered significant harm”.

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Four French judges Sunday questioned the passengers detained at Vatry airport. The hearings were conducted as part of the investigation opened by the Paris prosecutor’s office on suspicion of human trafficking. According to the French media, some of the passengers spoke Hindi and others Tamil. After authorising the plane to leave, the French judges on Sunday chose to cancel the hearings of the passengers due to irregularities in the procedure. The plane includes 11 unaccompanied minors and two passengers in custody since Friday had their detention extended on Saturday evening for up to 48 hours, according to French prosecutors.

The airline’s lawyer denied any involvement in the trafficking. A “partner” company that chartered the plane was responsible for verifying the identity documents of each passenger, and communicated the passengers’ passport information to the airline 48 hours before the flight, Bakayoko said. Human trafficking carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in France. According to the reports, the travel may have been planned by the Indian passengers to reach Central America from where they can attempt to enter the United States or Canada illegally.

But an anonymous tip indicated that passengers were “likely to be victims of human trafficking” in an organised gang, alerted the authorities.