The Mumbai police have claimed a breakthrough in a major human trafficking racket involving children from Punjab following the arrest of a city-based transporter earlier this week.
According to police, the businessman was one of the key links between traffickers in Punjab and agents in Europe who helped children from the agrarian state to enter France illegally.
“The traffickers exploited loopholes in French laws and got the children to enter France illegally. Once the children turned 18 they would apply for citizenship under local laws,” a police official said.
The racket first came to light in 2017 when three people, including a woman, were caught while trying to board an Ethiopian Airlines flight with four young boys, two of who were 14. The children had visas for Bosnia and Herzegovina where they were ostensibly going to shoot for a film.
While two of the traffickers, Arif Farooki and Rajesh Pawar, posed as cameramen and guardians of the boys, their woman accomplice Fatema Fareed posed as their mother. The children were tutored to say that they were being cast in a film being shot abroad.
Immigration officials who noticed the group moving suspiciously at the Sahar International Airport terminal took them in for questioning after which the racket came to light, a police official said. “All the children had fake birth certificates and identity cards,” he added.
Explaining the modus operandi of the gang, the Mumbai police official said the children were taken to France via Bosnia Herzegovina where their passports and identity papers would be destroyed. They would then be sheltered in gurdwaras in that country till they turned 18.
Loopholes in French laws would then have allowed them to apply for citizenship of that country, according to the police official.
The traffickers were paid Rs 10 lakh per child by the parents for being sent abroad.
Police say the Mumbai-based businessman may have smuggled as many as 20 to 30 minors from Punjab to France, Germany, Switzerland and other countries in Europe over the past few years.
He was arrested after the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina provided some information about his whereabouts. The police had not named the businessman as they were still investigating the racket, sources said.