Even as the grounded aircraft in France finally reached India, the mastermind behind the possible human trafficking angle being probed, has a Gujarat connection.
Though hailing from Hyderabad, the suspect Shashi Kiran Reddy was earlier let off by the Gujarat police in 2022 in the Dingucha case for want of evidence, sources in Indian security agencies have said.
In the Dingucha case, a couple and their two kids froze to death near the US border while trying to sneak into the US illegally from Canada as part of a larger group being trafficked from the town in Gujarat’s Gandhinagar.
Of the 303 Indian passengers on the Dubai-Nicaragua flight that was grounded at Vitry in France amid suspicions of human trafficking, 96 of them – almost a third – were from Gujarat, sources said.
Reddy has been running a human smuggling network for 15 years, arranging for chartered flights from Dubai to Nicaragua, from where people are illegally taken to the US by road and sea.
Sources said 8 to 10 Nicaragua-bound sorties have been made in the past two months to facilitate the illegal entry of 800 Indians into the US.
In the Dingucha case, it was found that victim Jagdish Patel’s brother Mahendra – alias Mahendra Dingucha – had organised the perilous journey. “Mahendra was working with Reddy and they sent thousands from Gujarat to the US illegally. Reddy had prepared the documents of Jagdish and his family and coordinated with offshore human smugglers to help them cross the US border,” said a source in one of the agencies.
The bodies of Dingucha residents Jagdish, wife Vaishali, 37, and their two children – daughter Vihangi, 11, and son Dharmik, 3 – were discovered near Emerson in Canada’s Manitoba, approximately 12m from the US border, on January 19, 2022.
The family had reportedly separated from a larger group of Indians who made it to the US side of the border in -35°C weather. The group, which was caught on the US side, told the US agents that four people including two kids were left behind. The US authorities then informed the Canadian agencies about the four people after which their bodies were recovered.
Meanwhile, the Airbus A340 aircraft belonging to Romania’s Legend Airlines landed in Mumbai early on Tuesday after a go-ahead from a French judge. It departed Vatry around 2:30 pm (local time) and reached Mumbai just after 4 am (IST).
It was grounded on its arrival from Dubai for refuelling after an anonymous tip-off that the passengers could be potential trafficking victims.
French authorities are still probing the case for immigration law violation, not human trafficking any more, reports suggest citing judicial sources.
Nicaragua in central America is a popular destination for immigrants to cross into the US illegally.
Nearly 97,000 Indians have tried to enter the US illegally in the financial year 2023, a whopping 51.61 per cent jump from the previous year as per US official data. At least 41,770 of those Indians tried to cross the Mexican land border into the US, the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) data showed.
Flights to Nicaragua or other countries where one can easily obtain travel documents are known as ‘donkey’ flights.