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UAE tour operator arrested for Haj pilgrimage fraud that defrauded 150 residents – News

The 44-year-old Indian expatriate is accused of scamming residents out of millions of dirhams, accepting advance payments for a pilgrimage that never materialized and failing to provide refunds.

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Published: Wednesday, October 25, 2023, 2:01 p.m.

Last update: Wednesday 25 Oct 2023, 20:57

A tour operator allegedly behind a Haj pilgrimage scandal exposed by Khaleej Times has been arrested. Shabin Rasheed, 44, who runs the Sharjah-based Baitul Ateeq travel agency, was detained by Dubai Police earlier this month, multiple sources confirmed.

The Indian expatriate is accused of defrauding nearly 150 people residing in the United Arab Emirates who were hoping to attend the Haj, causing them to lose millions of dirhams.

In June 2023, Khaleej Times reported on the distressing situation faced by these people who were left in the lurch because Baitul Ateeq did not keep his promises. Despite having made full payments in advance, none of them were able to perform the holy pilgrimage.

Rasheed initially apologized and claimed that a last-minute change in visa issuance caused the problems. He promised refunds and said funds from the resale of accommodations originally reserved for travelers would be returned. However, as time passed without refunds and reports emerged of similar incidents from previous years, many filed complaints against Rasheed, leading to his arrest.

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Baitul Ateeq’s clients who had filed complaints with the police claimed that they received notification of the arrest through a text message sent by Dubai Police.

Additionally, a Baitul Ateeq representative contacted people expecting refunds via WhatsApp and confirmed the news.

Here is a screenshot of the message:

However, those who placed their trust and hard-earned money in the hands of the travel agency feel very comfortable. “We have waited too long. He left us no choice but to go to the authorities,” said a man who did not want to be identified.

Dubai resident Saquib Imam, who paid Dh20,000 around this time last year, said he has only received Dh5,000 so far.

A widow from Sharjah, who spent Dh130,000 to go on pilgrimage with her teenage son, said she had only 13 percent of her funds when she filed the complaint.

It is not immediately clear how many police complaints have been filed against the company or how many have been partially refunded.

Previously, Rasheed claimed to have refunded 20 people but did not provide evidence in terms of names and contact numbers despite repeated requests for Khaleej Times.

Investigations reveal that this is not the first case of Baitul Ateeq leaving Haj aspirants stranded without refunds. Individuals such as Fazlullah (Dh50,400), Kamil Tahir Gani (Dh30,000) and Mohammad Ashram (Dh25,000) presented evidence of unpaid Haj trips that were insured and paid for as early as 2020. While Saudi Arabia had banned foreigners from Pilgrims who had performed Haj in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, those who had paid Baitul Ateeq in 2020 claimed to have received nothing but empty promises.

The story so far

  • February-June: Baitul Ateeq, a Sharjah-based tour operator, raises nearly Dh3 million from around 150 UAE residents seeking a Haj pilgrimage.
  • June 20: Haj hopefuls find themselves stranded in a medical center, days before the trip, and authorities question the authenticity of the promised pilgrimage.
  • June 28: Khaleej Times reports on the plight of Haj aspirants who were devastated as Baitul Ateeq fails to fulfill his commitment. Shebin Rasheed regrets and promises refunds, attributing the problem to visa changes.
  • August 3: Many file complaints with the police, with Khaleej Times revealing that this was not the first case of the tour operator abandoning pilgrims, with testimonies from customers who registered with the company in 2020.
  • September 12: Shabin Rasheed says he is selling his property in India to raise funds for repayments and is exploring a compensation case against a Saudi company, citing financial loss, defamation and emotional harm.
  • October 4: Dubai Police notify Haj aspirants who filed police complaints about Shabin’s arrest. A travel agency representative informs clients of Shabin’s arrest and asks for patience, stating that refund requests cannot be processed until Shabin’s release.

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