The court was told that a travel agent cancelled Hajj packages via WhatsApp messages at the last minute after allegedly scamming people out of thousands of pounds. Hasib Chowdhury, who ran Zamana Travels on Coventry Road in Yardley, is charged with ‘making false representations’ to customers by taking payments without arranging flights, accommodation or visas.

Hajj is a yearly pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia and is seen as a once in a lifetime religious duty for Muslims. Chowdhury, 50, of George Street in Coventry, is on trial at Birmingham Crown Court where he pleads not guilty to a single count of fraudulent trading between 2017 and 2018. He claimed that his ‘various’ bank accounts showed that he had received money from customers, including amounts of £3,000 and £2,000 from different people in December that year.

Mr Jackson added: “He pocketed thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds from people and gave them nothing in return, no service, no flights, no hotels, no nothing.”

Mark Jackson, prosecuting on behalf of Birmingham City Council trading standards, said: “In July 2017 trading standards officers visited the business and spoke to the defendant. He told officers he was no longer trading as a travel agent. We say he wasn’t being honest with the officers.”

He told the court analysis of his ‘various’ bank accounts demonstrated he had been taking money from customers including sums of £3,000 and £2,000 from different people in the December of that year. Mr Jackson continued: “He’s taking thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds off people and he provided them with no service, no flights, no hotels, no nothing and he kept their cash.

“Some of them got some money back in dribs and drabs, mostly after he was before the court.”

The jury was told the defendant was not an ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ License) holder and was not providing packages on behalf of an ATOL holder which is a legal requirement for anyone selling travel packages including flights.

Mr Jackson stated the main issue in the case was Chowdhury’s ‘explanation’ for what happened with customers. He said: “We say it’s dishonest through and through. I’m being polite about it. He will say it wasn’t. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances.”

The prosecutor summarised individual complainant’s cases starting with one customer who allegedly agreed to pay £11,000 for a ‘five star’ Hajj package for himself and his wife. Mr Jackson stated on August 10, 2018 – four days before departure – Chowdhury informed the complainant his visa had been rejected but ‘didn’t provide an explanation’.

He said: “The reason there was no visa is because there was no flight, no hotel, no nothing. All there was was £11,000 of this couple’s money lining his pocket.”

Mr Jackson said Chowdhury promised to see the complainant on the eve of the planned departure, accompany him and be his personal escort for the journey but failed to appear. He informed the court the complainant was then added to a WhatsApp group of about 20 people which got a message announcing the Hajj trip had been called off.

The defendant’s text reportedly said sorry for the ‘late reply and misunderstanding’ and claimed that visas had not been approved and that the problem was being ‘personally’ handled with the Saudi Arabian embassy. Chowdhury’s message assured to give back passports and offer full refunds within a few days, the court heard.

Mr Jackson said the defendant had tried to shift the blame to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah for ‘giving him trouble’ and someone else for ‘running away with passports’. He called Chowdhury a ‘swindler’ and said: “Tens of thousands of pounds.  “Making false representations. That’s a nice legal way of saying lying. Lying to people. Squeezing them for money then at the very last minute when they are ready to go, they are stuck. It’s a fraud from start to finish.”

“Making false representations. That’s a polite legal way of saying lying. Lying to people. Milking them for cash then at the very last minute when their bags are packed and they’ve had their Meningitis jabs, they are going nowhere. It’s a scam from beginning to end.”

The trial continues.



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