Mecca pilgrims scammed
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Cape Town - Hajj Watch announced on Saturday it had uncovered an allegedly fraudulent scheme promising discounted pilgrimages to Mecca, which has left more than 100 people stranded.
A case of fraud has been opened with the police after 42 of the pilgrims decided to take legal action. Sars is also due to investigate.
Hajj Watch, a national hajj advocacy group, revealed the details in Crawford on Saturday following an investigation into what it said was an elaborate scheme by a well-known Mitchells Plain foundation.
The scam was exposed on December 24 when more than 100 people about to embark on umrah, the Islamic minor pilgrimage, were forced to either pay up from their own pockets or cancel their trips when it emerged that the foundation had failed to pay the travel services provider LAMY SA.
Following the botch-up, the pilgrims called Hajj Watch.
Jakes Rawat, spokesman for Hajj Watch, said the organisation found that LAMY had been offering services to the value of R15 000 per pilgrim, while the foundation had been asking for sometimes as little as a third of that from the pilgrims.
And although the foundation allegedly received R2.6 million from the pilgrims in a scam likened to a Ponzi scheme, it allegedly paid over only R1.6m to LAMY for the trips.
“Hajj Watch believes that the low-cost pilgrimage offered was an elaborate Ponzi scheme. The (foundation) raises funds through a hajj and umrah savings plan, benefactors and public donations.
“While some people can attest to good services received from them, the majority were disappointed as they had to pay more, while others lost their money,” said Rawat.
He said 42 of the pilgrims had already started legal proceedings and that they also expected Sars to intervene.
During its investigation, Hajj Watch said it interviewed representatives of the organisations involved.
While LAMY SA was forthcoming with information, the foundation representative had failed to answer several key questions, or provide financial statements.
The foundation’s representative did not attend on Saturday’s press conference. Weekend Argus could not reach him for comment later.
Some of the pilgrims said the man had told them he was owed money by LAMY, and would pay them back once he recovered it.
Sheikh Faaiz Toufie said LAMY SA had unintentionally been complicit in the scheme by failing to check the credentials of the foundation, and operating without a written agreement. “Since the outcome of this investigation… we have come to accept our unwitting role in this scam.”