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France flight row: Hunt on for masterminds of 'human trafficking' network; upto Rs 1.2 cr paid to agents

The article discusses ongoing investigations by Gujarat Police into an alleged human trafficking network, exposed when a chartered Airbus A340 carrying Indian passengers bound for Nicaragua was intercepted in France.

France flight row: Hunt on for masterminds of 'human trafficking' network; upto Rs 1.2 cr paid to agents snt
First Published Dec 29, 2023, 9:30 PM IST

On Friday, the Gujarat Police revealed ongoing efforts to uncover the orchestrators of an alleged human trafficking network, exposed when French authorities intercepted a chartered Airbus A340 carrying 303 Indian passengers en route to Nicaragua. The aircraft, arriving from the United Arab Emirates, was grounded in France for refueling following an anonymous tip-off suggesting potential human trafficking victims on board. The majority of passengers hailed from Gujarat's Banaskantha, Patan, Mehsana, and Anand districts, according to the police. Simultaneously, investigations were underway in Punjab, where a portion of the flight's passengers originated, as authorities sought to unravel the extent of the smuggling operation.

Also read: 'Technical halt...': MEA mum on human trafficking claim after aircraft with Indians was grounded in France

According to Gujarat state police superintendent Sanjay Kharat, passengers on the intercepted Airbus A340 had reportedly paid "four million to 12.5 million rupees" to agents facilitating their journey from South America to the southern border of the United States. Kharat, in a statement to AFP, expressed the need to ascertain the connection between the passengers and the agents, investigating whether the agents approached them or vice versa. Additionally, authorities are keen to understand the intended plans of the individuals upon reaching Nicaragua.

"We want to know how these people came in contact with the agents, or whether the agents contacted them, and what their plan was after reaching Nicaragua," he said.

The official mentioned that efforts will be made to determine the extent of individuals who have been transported overseas through this method and identify those intending to travel in a similar manner. The CID has currently obtained "raw information" about the agents implicated in the incident, and further details are anticipated after interrogating the relevant passengers, according to the official.

Kharat elaborated that various agents engaged in illegal immigration collaborate, with smaller-scale operators at the village and district levels being overseen by a kingpin operating on the international stage. The Gujarat police are committed to investigating and comprehensively understanding their modus operandi, he stated.

Simultaneously, the Ministry of External Affairs conveyed that the majority of the Indian passengers from the flight have safely arrived in India. For those who remain in France, the ministry assured that consular assistance from New Delhi would be provided if needed.

Also read: French grounding prompted 30 Gujaratis in Dubai to abandon Nicaragua flight, choose return to India: Report

On being asked about the passengers, MEA official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, "As you are aware, it (flight) was grounded during a technical halt near Paris and most of them subsequently, after intervention from our embassy, consulate assistance landed back in India, in Mumbai. A few Indians, I don't have the exact numbers, could be 25, I think, as you said, but could be slightly different, stayed back there and I would have to refer you to the French authorities, to be honest, because this is being processed or the cases are being dealt by French authorities as per their local laws and I think for reasons of privacy as well as our lack of knowledge of French procedures, I would rather leave it at that."

"Most of the passengers are now back in India and as regards to the specific Indians who are there, if they require any assistance from us, actually we would extend consular assistance" he added.

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