The Gujarat Police has filed a first information report against 14 alleged immigration agents for human trafficking in connection with a charter flight that attempted to take 303 Indians from the United Arab Emirates to Nicaragua, The Hindu reported on Friday.

The plane was grounded by France on December 22 after authorities there were tipped off that it could be carrying passengers “likely to be victims of human trafficking”.

Two days later, the flight was allowed to leave for Mumbai with 276 passengers. Others sought asylum in France.

Sixty-six passengers hailed from Gujarat and were interrogated by the police after their return.

The 14 agents named in the Gujarat Police’s FIR are based in Gujarat, Mumbai and New Delhi, according to The Hindu. They allegedly lured people from Gujarat and Punjab, promising them illegal entry into the United States for a fee of Rs 60 lakh to Rs 80 lakh.

The plan had been to fly the passengers to Nicaragua and then Mexico, from where they would cross the border. Once there, the agents would help them find jobs in businesses run by Indians, it has been alleged.

“It’s an international racket involving agents in Gujarat, other parts of India and outside India who are involved in facilitating such large-scale organised smuggling of people from India to USA,” the newspaper quoted S Pandia Rajkumar, the Additional Director General, Crime Investigation Department (Crime), as saying.

Rajkumar also pointed to the involvement of people based in the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Mexico and Nicaragua. In December, three other flights had successfully brought people to Central America, he added.

“The agents would tutor these people that if they get caught while crossing the border, they would seek asylum citing harassment,” the Gujarat Police said in a statement. “If people from Punjab would be caught, they were told to say they were Khalistanis, while people from Gujarat would cite some other excuse.”

The 66 passengers from Gujarat, who were on the flight that was forced to return from France, had reached Dubai on valid tourist visas between December 10 and December 20. They had travelled to Dubai from Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Delhi. The passengers boarded the Nicaragua-bound aircraft operated by Romanian charter company Legend Airlines at the Fujairah International Airport on December 21.

The 14 immigration agents have been booked under sections 370 (human trafficking), 201 (destroying evidence) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

Also read: What is driving the huge surge in Indians illegally migrating to the United States?