Paris: A plane that was stopped by French authorities at Vatry airport near Paris on suspicion of human trafficking will be allowed to depart on Monday, after a judicial hearing involving more than 300 passengers was suspended due to procedural flaws, according to local media reports.
The plane, which belongs to the Romanian charter company Legend Airlines, had taken off from Dubai and was heading to Nicaragua, with a stopover in France for refueling. It was carrying 303 passengers, mostly Indian nationals who allegedly worked in the United Arab Emirates, Le Monde newspaper reported.
However, on Thursday, the plane was intercepted by French police and border agents, following a tip-off that some of the passengers could be victims of human trafficking by an organized network, BFM TV reported. The passengers were detained at the airport and their documents were seized for verification.
On Sunday, four French judges began questioning the passengers as part of an investigation launched by the Paris prosecutor’s office on charges of human trafficking, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison in France. However, the hearing was halted after the judges found irregularities in the procedure, such as the lack of interpreters and lawyers for the passengers, BFM TV said.
The judges decided to release the plane and the passengers and to resume the hearing at a later date, after ensuring the respect of their rights. The plane is expected to take off on Monday morning, but its destination is unclear. It could fly to India, where most of the passengers are from, or to Nicaragua, which was its original destination, or to another country, BFM TV said.
According to French media, some of the passengers speak Hindi and some Tamil and have contacted their families by phone. A source close to the case told Le Monde that 10 passengers have requested asylum in France.
Among the passengers, 11 minors who were traveling without guardians and two adults have been in custody since Friday, and their custody was extended for another 48 hours on Saturday evening, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.
The lawyer of Legend Airlines, Liliana Bakayoko, denied any involvement of the company in human trafficking. She said that a “partner” company had chartered the plane and was responsible for checking the identity documents of each passenger. She said that the airline received the passport information of the passengers 48 hours before the flight.
The Indian embassy in France said that its staff was at the airport to assist the Indian nationals and thanked the French authorities for working over the long Christmas holiday weekend to “quickly resolve” the situation. The embassy also said that it was in touch with the French government and the airline to ensure the welfare and safety of the passengers.