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Man linked to former religious teacher jailed for deceiving 85 people in Haj tour scam

Man linked to former religious teacher jailed for deceiving 85 people in Haj tour scam

Muslim worshippers gather before the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on Jul 2, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

SINGAPORE: A man was sentenced to two years' jail on Thursday (Jul 7) for deceiving more than 85 people in a scam related to the Haj pilgrimage performed by Muslims.

Mohd Ramlee AB Samad, 62, pleaded guilty to 20 charges of cheating, with another 65 similar charges considered for sentencing.

He admitted to cheating 69 people into paying more than S$97,000 for the purported Haj tour in 2018. All 85 victims were also deceived into handing their passports to him to obtain visas.

He ran the scam with the help of his friend Mr Fahrorazi Sohoi, who was then a religious teacher and a bankrupt.

The court heard that in May 2018, Ramlee told Mr Fahrorazi that there were places available on a discounted trip for that year's Haj, which was from Aug 19 to Aug 24, 2018.

It is obligatory for able Muslims to perform the annual Haj pilgrimage in Mecca at least once in their lifetime if they have the means. There is a quota on the number of pilgrims each year.

Ramlee claimed to have been informed of the discounted trip by a man named Mohsein, purportedly a representative of Saudi authorities who had been liaising with Singapore authorities.

He claimed that flights and accommodation would be covered by the Saudi authorities, and participants need only pay S$1,550 for airport tax, administrative fees and the Korban sacrifice ritual.

He also claimed that the quota of participants would be "obtained under Batam's and Brunei's as Singapore's Haj quota was full", court documents stated.

Ramlee asked Mr Fahrorazi to look for interested participants and collect payment and passports from them. In return, he would receive S$200 commission for each participant. Mr Fahrorazi agreed and spread the word.

In fact, Ramlee knew that there never was such a trip, and intended to deceive the victims through Mr Fahrorazi to cheat them into making payment, said Deputy Public Prosecutors Tan Zhi Hao and Ryan Lim.

Mr Fahrorazi made advance payments for the trip to Ramlee's bank account even before collecting full payment from the victims, as Ramlee told him that places on the tour and the flight had to be reserved. He transferred a total of about S$40,000 to Ramlee.

On or around Aug 13, 2018, Ramlee left Singapore for Batam.

On Aug 15, 2018, some of the victims suspected the trip was a scam when Mr Fahrorazi told them the departure date had been delayed by a day to Aug 17, 2018.

Ramlee was arrested on Oct 4, 2018 when he returned to Singapore from Batam. A total of 82 passports belonging to the victims was seized from him.

Three victims' passports and more than S$196,000 in cash were seized from Mr Fahrorazi.

Ramlee has not made any restitution to date.

The prosecutors said that the victims did not suffer any financial losses as the seized cash will be returned to them.

They asked for at least two years' imprisonment, citing the significant amount of money involved, and the premeditated and relatively sophisticated nature of the fraud.

They highlighted that Ramlee deceived the victims through Mr Fahrorazi, allowing him to distance himself from the fraud and use his friend's position as a religious teacher to perpetrate the scam.

"This gave the scam a veil of legitimacy and helped convince the victims that the purported discounted trip was legitimate," said the prosecutors.

Mr Fahrorazi was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal for his role in the scam in October 2019.

This means he may still be prosecuted for the offence in the future should there be developments in the case, such as the emergence of new evidence.

The punishment for cheating is mandatory imprisonment for up to 10 years and a fine.

Source: CNA/dv(ac)

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