Indonesia Agency Bosses Arrested Over Massive Religious Travel Fraud

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

The First Travel principals.

Two directors of an Indonesian travel agency specializing in Muslim pilgrimage travel have been arrested and accused of fraud. That in itself isn’t shocking, the same kind of thing happens here occasionally. But this case appears to be on an epic scale. 

Up to 35,000 First Travel clients paid between US1,000-$5,000 for umrah (pilgrimage) packages to the Middle East – which for many was likely the trip of a lifetime – and they might be out of luck.

"In total, there were 70,000 would-be pilgrims who have paid. But only 35,000 have embarked on umrah, while the agency has just given the remainder various reasons for them not having been able to depart," said Herry Rudolf Nahak, general crimes director at the National Police's Criminal Investigation Agency.

Husband-and-wife First Travel principals Andika Surachman and Anniesa Desvitasari Hasibuan were arrested and are being held pending further investigations.

The couple were taken into custody at the offices of the Ministry of Religious Affairs where they came to plea for the retention of their operating licence.

Herry said the police were first alerted after the agency's own staff made complaints of potential criminal activity.

The Indonesian Consumers Foundation says it has received 18,000 complaints from First Travel customers.

"We appreciate the efforts of the law enforcement institutions in relation to this case, although it's actually too late, because there are so many victims already," the foundation's executive chairman Tulus Abadi said. He is asking the government to step in and help clients left out of pocket.

"The Financial Services Authority and the Religious Affairs Ministry have to try their best to ensure that these customers are helped." 

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