LEICESTER: Three men involved in a Leicester travel firm have been prosecuted for fraudulently claiming to be licensed to sell package trips to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage.
According to Leicester Council City Council information, family-run holiday company Al Shafqat Hajj Ltd, of Mere Road, Spinney Hills, was fraudulently using stationary containing the symbols of both the Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL) and the International Air Travel Association in its business which specialised in selling pilgrimages to the holy Muslim site.
The three men behind the company had originally pleaded guilty to a series of offences under the Fraud Act 2006, and for breaching the Package Travel Regulations when they appeared before Leicester Crown Court back in February. They were sentenced at Nottingham Crown Court, on Friday, October 26.
Raja Shafqat Hussain, aged 62, of Mervyn Road, Evington, pleaded guilty to five offences under the Fraud Act 2006 and one offence under the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992. He was given a two-year prison sentence, suspended for two years, and disqualified from being a company director for 10 years.
His son Raja Akeel Hussain, aged 31, also of Mervyn Road, Evington, admitted four offences under the Fraud Act 2006 and one offence under the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992. He was also given a two-year suspended jail sentence, banned from being a company director for eight years and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.
Khuram Shahzad, aged 30, of Mere Road, Spinney Hills, pleaded guilty to four offences under the Fraud Act 2006. He was given a two-year community order, disqualified from being a company director for five years and ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work.
The court had heard how the offences had taken place between October 2013 and June 2016, including fraudulent use of ATOL and IATA-branded stationary and making false representations to customers regarding being licensed by ATOL and accredited by IATA.
In addition, both Raja Shafqat Hussain and Raja Akeel Hussain pleaded guilty to being in possession of false ATOL licence on June 16, 2016, as well as operating the business between January 1, 2014, and the August 31, 2016, selling travel packages without the required protection for customers’ money.
Customers had complained about poor quality, dirty and dangerous accommodation and transport, inadequate food, and confusion over which of two similarly-named companies customers were contracted with.
The men pleaded guilty to the offences back in February 2018, but sentencing was delayed after both the Hussains applied to vacate their original guilty pleas, after claiming they had received poor legal instructions. Raja Shafqat Hussain also claimed that he didn’t have a clear understanding of English.
Their applications were dismissed by a judge in August 2018, and they were bailed until this latest hearing for sentencing. All defendants subsequently applied to the court to vary the bail conditions to enable them to travel abroad. The applications were denied by the court. A confiscation investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act is also underway.
Leicester deputy city mayor responsible for regulatory services, Councillor Piara Singh Clair, said: “People paying often large sums of money to travel abroad deserve to know how their money is protected in the event of insolvency of the tour operator.
“In this case, Al Shafqat Hajj Ltd took advantage of people wanting to make a religious pilgrimage, both by being dishonest about the company’s credentials and also providing a substandard service. “The outcome of this court case shows we can, and will, take action against such unscrupulous firms which act fraudulently.”