A tour operator reportedly behind a Haj pilgrimage racket exposed by Khaleej Times has been arrested. Shabin Rasheed, 44, who runs the Sharjah-based Baitul Ateeq travel agency, was taken into custody by the Dubai Police earlier this month, multiple sources confirmed.

The Indian expat is accused of defrauding nearly 150 UAE-based individuals hoping to go on Haj, causing them to lose millions of dirhams.

In June 2023, Khaleej Times reported on the distressing situation faced by these people who were left in the lurch as Baitul Ateeq failed to deliver on its promises. Despite making full payments upfront, none were able to make the holy pilgrimage.

Initially, Rasheed apologised and claimed that a last-minute change in visa issuance caused the issues. He promised refunds and said the funds from reselling accommodations originally booked for the travellers would be returned. However, as time passed with no refunds and reports of similar incidents from previous years emerged, many filed complaints against Rasheed, leading to his arrest.

Clients of Baitul Ateeq who had filed police complaints stated that they received notification of the arrest through a text message sent by the Dubai Police.

Additionally, a Baitul Ateeq representative reached out to individuals awaiting refunds via WhatsApp, confirming the news.

However, those who placed their trust and hard-earned money in the hands of the travel agency are far reassured. “We have waited for far too long. He left us with no choice but to approach the authorities,” said a man who did not wish to be named.

Dubai resident Saquib Imam, who paid Dh20,000 around this time last year, said he’s received only Dh5,000 so far.

A widow in Sharjah, who parted with Dh130,000 to go on the pilgrimage with his teenaged son, said she’s got only 13 per cent of her funds when she filed a complaint.

It's not immediately clear how many police complaints have been filed against the company or how many have been partially refunded.

Earlier, Rasheed claimed to have refunded 20 individuals, but he failed to provide evidence in terms of names and contact numbers despite repeated requests by Khaleej Times.

Investigations reveal that this is not the first instance of Baitul Ateeq leaving Haj hopefuls stranded without refunds. Individuals like Fazlullah (Dh50,400), Kamil Tahir Gani (Dh30,000), and Mohammad Ashram (Dh25,000) presented evidence of unpaid Haj trips that were assured and paid for as far back as 2020. While Saudi Arabia had barred foreign pilgrims from performing Haj in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, those who had paid Baitul Ateeq in 2020 claimed to have received nothing but empty promises.

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