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Forest Gate travel agent arrested in Hajj fraud probe

Thousands throng around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca Thousands throng around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca

Friday, August 22, 2014
8:54 AM

A Forest Gate travel agent has been arrested and £400,000 seized over the suspected fraudulent sale of package holidays to devout Muslims making the once-in-a-lifetime Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

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The 42-year-old was quizzed by police as part of an on-going investigation into scam tour operators who sell non-existent flights, hotels and visas or provide sub-standard accommodation and travel.

His travel agency was searched on Wednesday following the earlier arrest of another 37-year-old man operating a separate travel agency from a residential address in Hackney. They were both later released on bail.

Police are not revealing the identities of the men or the names of the travel agencies.

An estimated £400,000 was seized in the raids which were part of a crackdown by Birmingham City Council Trading Standards, Newham Council Trading Standards and the City of London Police, which is the National Policing Lead for Fraud

Every year 25,000 UK Muslims make the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in October joining up with two million fellow Muslims to celebrate Hajj.

Many of them save for years in the knowledge that, for them, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Many will be ripped-off by criminals either pocketing the money for trips which do not exist or falsely claiming to be ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) accredited, leaving victims with no travel insurance or protection should something go wrong.

The operation was led by trading standards officers from Birmingham which has a large Asian community.

Sajeela Naseer, Head of Trading Standards for Birmingham City Council, said: “The visits related to businesses which we believe are defrauding and misleading their customers, one of which has already been previously warned.

“We have been successfully prosecuting such operators for a number of years, and through our investigations we are identifying many more operators like these who are trading nationally through the internet or advertising.”

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