At least 20 passengers from Gujarat who were on the Nicaragua-bound flight which was sent back mid-route from France have been quizzed by police in a bid to unearth a suspected illegal immigration network operating from the state, a senior official has said.
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 early hours of December 26.
According to a senior state Crime Investigation Department (CID) official, those passengers included at least 60 from Gujarat, who have already reached their respective native places in the state.
They are being 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, the official said on Friday.
“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,” said S P Rajkumar, Additional Director General of Police, CID – Crime and Railways.
Of the 60 who returned, some 20 have been grilled already by the agency, he added.
“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,” he added.
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.
The chartered flight, which was operated by Romanian charter company Legend Airlines and bound for Nicaragua, landed at Vatry near Paris on December 21 for a technical stopover en route from Dubai when the French police intervened.
French authorities launched a judicial investigation into the conditions and purpose of the trip, with a unit specialising in organised crime investigating suspected human trafficking.
Nicaragua has become a popular destination for those seeking asylum in the US. As many as 96,917 Indians attempted to enter the US illegally in the financial year 2023, signalling a 51.61 per cent jump from the previous year, according to data made available by the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).
At least 41,770 of those Indians attempted to enter the US via the Mexican land border, CBP data shows.
Flights to Nicaragua or third countries where obtaining travel documents is easy have come to be known as ‘dunki’ flights.
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