60 hajj pilgrims ‘swindled’ by 2 agencies, broker
12:00 AM, July 30, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 05:36 AM, July 30, 2019

60 hajj pilgrims ‘swindled’ by 2 agencies, broker

Alleged fraudulence by two hajj agencies and a broker has made around 60 people’s pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia uncertain.  

They were scheduled to fly on July 26. But after they arrived at the Ashkona Hajj Camp in the capital, they learnt that they were yet to get visas.

Most of them are from Khulna and Bagerhat.  Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, Azizul Islam said each of them paid Tk 3.20 lakh to Tk 3.60 lakh to two hajj operators -- Swadesh Aviation and Bidesh Bhraman -- through a group leader named Shamsuzzaman Toha, vice-principal of a Bagerhat madrasa. “I have been preparing to perform the holy hajj since 2017. After saving the required money, I planned it this year. My flight was on July 26. But after coming to the hajj camp, I came to know that our visas are yet to be complete,” he said in an emotion-choked voice.

Swadesh Aviation told them that the group leader did not pay the hajj agencies and had “misappropriated” a major portion of the amount.

Ehsan Hossain, another hajj aspirant, said the two hajj operators were now demanding additional Tk 50,000 to Tk 60,000 from each of them for completing their visas and other procedures.

Since July 26, those people have been staying at the hajj camp and different hotels near the camp, they said, adding that Toha’s mobile phone was found switched off after they entered the camp.

Khairul Islam Thakur, proprietor of Swadesh Aviation, told this correspondent that Toha, owner of Saudi Bangla, through middlemen collected money from 170 intended pilgrims of Khulna and Bagerhat.

As Toha’s hajj agency do not have registration to send hajj aspirants to Saudi Arabia this year, he contacted Swadesh Aviation and Bidesh Bhraman to send 170 hajj pilgrims to Makkah, said Khairul.  “But the fact is that Toha didn’t pay us. That’s why we couldn’t complete all procedures, including renting houses or hotels in Saudi Arabia. Their visas couldn’t be done,” he added.

Shahadat Hossain Taslim, president of Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (Haab), said due to quick intervention of Haab and the religious affairs ministry, 108 of the 173 hajj aspirants were sent to Saudi Arabia in the last three days.

“We are hopeful of sending the rest to Saudi Arabia,” he added.

 Meanwhile, the owner of Swadesh Aviation said police detained Toha yesterday. “Police are trying to realise the money he took from the hajj aspirants.”

Owner of Bidesh Bhraman Omar Faruq could not be contacted as he did not receive phone calls.

A top official of the religious affairs ministry told this correspondent, “We will not tolerate if the two agencies finally fail to send their hajj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.”

Wishing anonymity, the official added that the ministry was taking necessary measures so that the hajj aspirants fly to Makkah. 

Around 1.27 lakh Bangladeshis are scheduled to perform hajj this year which is likely to be held on August 10, depending on new moon sighting.

About 90,000 went to Saudi Arabia as of yesterday on Biman Bangladesh and Saudi airlines.

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