Indonesian travel agent accused of cheating 35,000 would-be umrah pilgrims

Indonesian travel agent accused of cheating 35,000 would-be umrah pilgrims

The management of Indonesian travel agency First Travel is suspected of having embezzled funds belonging to at least 35,000 clients. (Photo: Merdeka) 

JAKARTA: Around 35,000 Muslim clients of Indonesian travel agency First Travel have been allegedly ripped off the money they paid to perform umrah, or minor pilgrimage, to Mecca. 

"In total, there were 70,000 would-be pilgrims who paid. But only 35,000 have embarked on umrah, while the rest have been fed various excuses that have prevented them from departing till now," the general crime director of Indonesia's National Police Criminal Investigation Agency (Bareskim) Herry Rudolf Nahak told reporters on Thursday (Aug 10). 

First Travel's president director, Andika Surachman and his wife Anniesa Desvitasari Hasibuan, have been arrested and will be detained for 20 days while the investigations are conducted, Herry added. 

The couple were arrested at the offices of the Ministry of Religious Affairs while they were trying to convince officials not to revoke their operating permit. 

Herry added that First Travel offered three different packages for umrah comprising of the promotional umrah packages costing 14.3 million rupiah (US$1,070), regular packages costing 25 million rupiah (US$1,870) and VIP packages costing Rp 54 million (US$4,039). 

"After calculating, the clients ... have lost in total at least 550 billion rupiah," Herry explained. 

One of the clients, Emil, told Merdeka that he had paid 34.6 million rupiah since 2016 and was then promised that he would be able to depart for umrah in May 2017. He had paid that amount because he wanted to experience performing umrah during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. 

"Ramadan has passed and I haven't departed yet," said Emil, who has visited the First Travel counter more than 10 times but added that he has not yet received a satisfactory explanation. 

According to Herry, the investigation started when 13 staff members from First Travel made police reports after several clients complained that the money they paid the agency havd not been used to pay for their pilgrimages.

First Travel's operating permit was revoked by the Ministry of Religious Affairs on Aug 1.

Source: Merdeka/CNA/am