The Gujarat Police has questioned at least 20 passengers from Gujarat who were on the Nicaragua-bound flight which was sent back mid-route from France to unearth a suspected illegal immigration network operating from the state, news agency PTI reported.
The Nicaragua-bound aircraft, an Airbus A340 carrying 276 passengers, was grounded in France for four days over suspected human trafficking. It landed in Mumbai in the wee hours of December 26.
A senior state Crime Investigation Department (CID) official told PTI that those passengers included at least 60 from Gujarat, who have already reached their respective native places in the state. They were questioned by the department to find out whether they had any plans to cross into the United States of America illegally after reaching Latin America.
“They were sent back from France. There was a rumour they had planned to enter the US illegally after landing in Nicaragua. In their statements, they told us they were going there as tourists. We are going into the details to find out who were the agents behind their trip,” the report quoted SP Rajkumar, additional director General of Police, CID – Crime and Railways, as saying.
The police said of the 60 who returned to Gujarat, some 20 have been grilled already by the agency.
“We are verifying their documents to ascertain whether they used genuine or forged documents to proceed to Central America. We will also check their financial transactions because, ideally, they should not have paid more if they were going there as normal tourists and not with any other intention,” said the senior IPS officer.
“Though we have started questioning, no one is divulging facts. They claim they went there as tourists. We are investigating the case from all angles,” the officer said.
On Tuesday, superintendent of police CID (Crime) Sanjay Kharat had said the CID had formed four teams to investigate the issue.
“The CID (crime) wants to take action against agents who had promised help to the victims to enter the US and other countries (illegally). We have formed four teams which will get information from the victims regarding promises made to them by these agents,” he had told reporters.
Airbus A340 with Indians grounded in France
The Airbus A340 was detained last week at Vatry airport, east of Paris, where it had stopped for refuelling. It had arrived from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and was halted after an anonymous tip-off that it was carrying potential victims of human trafficking, with most of the 303 people aboard flown back to India on Monday.
Passengers had paid “four million to 12.5 million rupees” ($48,000-150,000) to agents to help them reach the southern border of the United States from South America, Gujarat Police superintendent Sanjay Kharat told news agency AFP.
“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.
Of the 276 passengers returned to India, Kharat said 66 were from his state, and police were in the process of interrogating them.
“We have identified people who could give us some information into the illegal racket and they are being questioned,” he said.
Most of the flight’s other passengers were from Punjab, where police said they were also conducting a probe.
“We are duty bound to investigate if any illegalities are brought to our notice and we are examining the issue,” senior Punjab police official LK Yadav told AFP.
The flight was operated by Romanian charter company Legend Airlines, and passengers were put up at Vatry airport during the investigation. Among those staying behind in France were two people questioned by police there over suspected human trafficking.
A French judicial source said they were released after it was established the passengers had boarded the plane of their own free will.
Close to 100,000 illegal Indian migrants have attempted to enter the US this year, according to US Customs and Border Protection data.
(With inputs from PTI, AFP)