Indonesia shines a light on dishonest Umrah operators

Indonesia is reviewing 906 Umrah tour operators currently registered with the authorities. (AFP/File photo)
Updated 08 June 2018
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Indonesia shines a light on dishonest Umrah operators

  • The Depok district court on the outskirts of Jakarta handed down respectively 20- and 18-year prison terms to the husband and wife team Andika Surachman and Anniesa Hasibuan

JAKARTA:Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has revamped its supervision of Umrah tour operators and imposed a moratorium on issuing licenses to new ones as of last month. 
The moratorium was imposed as a major Umrah scam case, which cost 58,682 aspiring Umrah pilgrims a combined loss of 848.70 billion rupiah ($60 million), was being heard at a court near Jakarta. 

Last Wednesday, the Depok district court on the outskirts of Jakarta handed down respectively 20- and 18-year prison terms to the husband and wife team Andika Surachman and Anniesa Hasibuan, a fashion designer who made a name for herself after her modest fashion collection was showcased at New York Fashion Week in 2016.

“We are reviewing the 906 Umrah tour operators currently listed in the ministry. We have also revoked licenses of four operators so far this year,” ministry spokesman Mastuki told Arab News.

“The minister of religious affairs has also issued a ministerial regulation which details new rules for Umrah tour operators to abide by, such as the price reference should be at least 20 million rupiah ($1,428) and customers should be able to go to Makkah no longer than six months since they made their first payments,” Mastuki added.

Sobandi, the presiding judge, also gave Anniesa and her husband Andika a 10-billion-rupiah fine each on fraud, embezzlement and money laundering charges.

Mastuki said the verdicts are proper punishments that everyone has to accept.

“Justice has been served, despite the consequences and losses that their customers suffered,” he said.

Through a Jakarta-based travel agency, which they had established in 2009, First Travel, Anniesa and Andika used to offer a cheap Umrah package, which cost about 14.3 million rupiah ($1,000) and was $300 cheaper than a normal package would cost. 

“The defendants had known from the start that the 14.3-million-rupiah package per person would not be enough to send a customer to perform Umrah,” Yulinda Trimuti, a member of the panel of judges, said during the hearing.

The pair, whose lavish lifestyle was on full display on their social media accounts, had promised customers who paid in full that they could go to Makkah for Umrah in a year.

But customers’ complaints began to arise and were made public after a group of would-be pilgrims failed to depart to Makkah in March 2017 and the travel agent could not give an estimated schedule of when they could eventually go.

From December 2016 to May 2017, there were 72,682 Umrah hopefuls signed up for the cheap package that First Travel offered, but the company was only able to send 14,000 customers to Saudi Arabia. 

The pair also owed 24 billion rupiah ($1.7 million) to three hotels in Makkah and Madinah.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs revoked First Travel’s license as an Umrah operator in early August last year and later in the month, the police named the pair and Anniesa’s younger sister Siti Nuraidah Hasibuan as suspects and charged them with fraud and money laundering. Siti Nuraidah, also known as Kiki, was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the same court.  

Anniesa had been listed among Forbes Indonesia’s 2017 Inspiring Women earlier last year before the fraud case became public. But later in August, the magazine announced on its official Facebook page that it has removed her from the list.

“Forbes Indonesia endorses ethical business practices and wish to inspire others to achieve their success through ethical means of doing business,” the magazine said.

The police are now investigating a similar case involving a Makassar-based Umrah tour operator Abu Tour. Mastuki said Abu Tour’s case was similar to First Travel, which gained customers through Ponzi-scheme promotions and cheap packages.

“Initially there were about 80,000 prospective pilgrims who couldn’t go, but some have been remedied and sent on Umrah trips through other operators,” he added.

The long waiting list for Indonesians to go on Hajj, which could extend for more than two decades, has created a lucrative market for Umrah tour operators in the world’s largest Muslim population country to send pilgrim hopefuls to Makkah.

The rise and fall of Indonesia’s high-profile fashion designer

Anniesa Hasibuan. (Getty)

The fall of Indonesian fashion designer Anniesa Hasibuan, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison last week for a multimillion-dollar Umrah scheme, happened seemingly as quickly as her rise on the global fashion stage.

She drew global attention in 2016 by being the first designer at New York Fashion Week to show all of her models in hijabs, and followed that up by making sure all of her models were immigrants or children of immigrants, to make a statement about US President Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries.

Hasibuan certainly came along at the right moment and knew how to ride it, as modest fashion took off on runways around the world. 

While Hasibuan made her Middle East debut at Doha’s fashion week, Alia Khan, chairwoman of the Dubai-based Islamic Fashion and Design Council, said the designer wasn’t that well known in the region. “She was still at the early stages of her brand recognition,” Khan said.

— With input from Amna Khaishgi

Designer Anniesa Hasibuan, who along with her husband, is accused of fraud. Getty Images


More than 60 dead in South Africa flooding after heavy rains

Updated 24 April 2019
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More than 60 dead in South Africa flooding after heavy rains

  • Rescue workers were digging through collapsed buildings on Wednesday
  • The rains mainly hit areas around the port city of Durban

DURBAN: At least 60 people have been killed and more than 1,000 have fled their homes after heavy rains caused flooding and mudslides along South Africa’s eastern coast, authorities said on Wednesday.
Most of the deaths were in KwaZulu-Natal province. Flooding also killed at least three people in neighboring Eastern Cape province, state broadcaster SABC said.
The rains mainly hit areas around the port city of Durban. Multiple dwellings collapsed in mudslides, said Robert McKenzie, a KwaZulu-Natal Emergency Medical Services spokesman.
Rescue workers were digging through collapsed buildings on Wednesday.
Victor da Silva, a resident of the coastal town of Amanzimtoti, said his family managed to evacuate before the floods destroyed their home and cars.
“On Monday, the water was just crazy. And yesterday morning I got here, everything was fine, my garage was still here, the other part of the house was still here, and it just couldn’t stop raining,” Da Silva said. “And then an hour and a half later, everything poof (vanished) because the rain just hasn’t stopped.
Authorities in southern Tanzania ordered evacuations of residents from low-lying areas and the closure of schools and offices ahead of landfall of Tropical Cyclone Kenneth on neighboring Mozambique’s coast on Thursday.
“We’ve decided to evacuate all residents of valleys and other low-lying areas and we advise them to seek refuge at public spaces,” Mtwara regional commissioner Gelasius Byakanwa, told reporters.
Johan Fourie said he fled his home in Amanzimtoti, Kwazulu-Natal, just before part of it collapsed.
“I nearly lost my life, and my neighbor, I believe, is in hospital,” Fourie told eNCA television.
The region had been hit by heavy rains for days, but authorities did not foresee the extent of the downpour late on Monday, said Lennox Mabaso, a spokesman for the provincial Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs department.
“As a result, there was flooding and some structures were undermined and collapsed on people,” Mabaso said.
Some people were swept away by the water, he added.
President Cyril Ramaphosa visited affected communities in KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday and was expected in the Eastern Cape in the next few days.
“This is partly what climate change is about, that it just hits when we least expect it,” he said.
Last week, 13 people were killed during an Easter service in KwaZulu-Natal when a church wall collapsed after days of heavy rains and strong winds.