Hajj travel agent says he's a victim too

December 1, 2011 (CHICAGO)

In this Intelligence Report: The travel agent says he is a victim too.

The I-Team first exposed this about a month ago: Hundreds of Muslims, who had paid thousands of dollars each to go on a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca, were left stranded by Rashid Faridi, a Chicago travel agent who had failed to deliver the Saudi Arabian visas that were necessary for their trip.

Millions of Muslim devotees have returned from their November Hajj. But some never left in the first place. They blame North Side travel agency VIP Travel Services that advertised Hajj trips and proclaimed being "a company you can trust."

But Rukhsana Imtiaz, of Brownstown, Michigan, is among several hundred Muslims who paid $4,000 each and are now out that money and they say out of trust.

"Going for Hajj is a lifetime decision," said Imtiaz. "We searched the Internet and we found this website, and everything was very promising, very nice, so we just went ahead and booked our package through this agent."

After trying to explain what happened to jilted Hajj travelers -- that their visas were never obtained -- Chicago travel agent Faridi went to Saudi Arabia trying to get refunds for his customers.

But, in an e-mail obtained by the I-Team, Faridi has informed the marooned Muslims that he was unable to obtain the money they paid for flights, hotels, and other travel costs totaling almost $1.8 million. And, because he can't, Faridi told travelers: "no cash refund is available." He is offering to bring them to Mecca next year, but it is unclear how that would be financed.

"I think he was in over his head," Imtiaz said.

A former VIP travel employee told the I-Team that Faridi didn't intend to cheat anyone, but he promised more Saudi visas then he could get. Now, those out money say they have filed complaints with state officials, local police and the FBI.

Jilted travelers also have hired an Oak Brook law firm to look at civil action against the travel agency that apparently tried to buy visas on the black market and failed. Underground, they go for up to $2,000 apiece, even though that is illegal and Saudi Arabian diplomats say they provide the visas for free to Muslims making their Hajj visits through a dozen accredited travel agencies in the United States.

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