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What airline said after France grounds plane with 300 Indians over suspected ‘trafficking’

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A lawyer for Romania-based Legend Airlines said the company believed it had done nothing wrong and had committed no offence after officials in France on Thursday grounded a Nicaragua-bound plane carrying more than 300 Indian passengers over suspected “human trafficking”. The French Police also questioned two men Friday after the Airbus A340 had flown in from the United Arab Emirates and landed at Vatry airport in eastern France for a technical stopover. The two men in custody were among the passengers.

A civil protection vehicle parked outside the Vatry airport, north-eastern France where an Airbus A340 plane carrying 303 Indian passengers, is grounded on the tarmac since December 21, due to "suspicions of human trafficking", (AFP)
A civil protection vehicle parked outside the Vatry airport, north-eastern France where an Airbus A340 plane carrying 303 Indian passengers, is grounded on the tarmac since December 21, due to “suspicions of human trafficking”, (AFP)

Liliana Bakayoko, who said she was a lawyer for the airline, told news agency AFP that Legend Airlines denied doing anything wrong and “is at the disposal of the French authorities”. But the airline would take legal action if the prosecutors file charges, she added.

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Legend Airlines, however, did not respond officially to requests for comment. Bakayoko said a customer, whom she wouldn’t identify, chartered the plane and was responsible for verifying the identity documents of each passenger. The customer communicated the passenger information to the airline 48 hours before the flight, she said.

The Vatry airport, located 150 kilometres east of Paris, serves mostly budget airlines.

The prefecture in the north-eastern department of Marne said the A340, operated by Legend Airlines, “remained grounded on the tarmac at Vatry airport following its landing”. Legend Airlines has a small fleet of four aircraft, according to the Flightradar website.

Reports, citing the Paris prosecutors’ office, claimed that French authorities got a tip-off that the plane was carrying passengers “likely to be victims of human trafficking”.

“Identity checks are being carried on the 303 passengers and on the cabin crew,” said the prosecutor’s office. They were also checking the conditions in which the passengers were being transported and the purpose of their journey.

In a statement on social media X (formerly Twitter), the Indian embassy in France said the authorities in Paris had informed them of the situation. “Embassy team has reached & obtained consular access. We are investigating the situation, also ensuring wellbeing of passengers,” it said.

AFP reported that minors were among the passengers.

French border police can initially hold a foreign national for up to four days if they land in France and are prevented from travelling on to their intended destination. French law allows for that period to be extended to eight days if a judge approves it, then another eight days in exceptional circumstances, up to a maximum of 26 days.

Human trafficking carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in France.

(With inputs from AFP, AP)

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