JEDDAH Saudi Arabia: The Saudi Ministry of Haj is sending inspectors to visit domestic Haj groups in order to identify fraudulent companies, said Ibrahim Al-Jabiri, director general of the Department of Domestic Pilgrims at the ministry.
According to government rules, pilgrims ? regardless of whether they are Saudis or not ? are not allowed to enter Makkah or the holy sites during the Haj season without a Haj permit, Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper reported. ?The ministry has been taking action against several swindlers posing as Haj service providers and issuing pilgrims with false contracts,? said Al-Jabiri.
?The regulations laid down by the ministry have, however, led to a considerable fall in the activities of fraudulent Haj groups over the past three years. The ministry has so far unearthed 75 fraudulent companies in various parts of the Kingdom. Last year alone, 17 false companies were unearthed,? the official said.He added that fraudulent companies, when caught, are forced to close their offices and refund their ?customers.?
?Victims would complain in the past that although their companies promised them accommodation and other facilities in Makkah and in the holy sites, on arrival they would often find nothing there,? he said, adding that the situation has improved substantially now.
Al-Jabiri said his ministry is receiving full cooperation from the Ministry of Interior in finding false Haj service providers. Fake companies can be fined SR100,000 for a first time offense; second time offenders can be fined double that amount.
The Ministry of Haj will also cancel the licenses of authorized Haj service providers if they fail to fulfill their contractual obligations. ?The ministry urges all domestic pilgrims to verify whether the Haj group they are dealing with are licensed by checking the Ministry of Haj?s website which has a list of all licensed Haj service providers. They can also do this by calling the ministry?s toll-free number,? Al-Jabiri.
?The ministry has also set up a committee to speed up legal action against both fraudulent companies and companies which are licensed yet fail to fulfill their obligations. The three-member committee will have representatives from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. If the offenders are non-Saudis they will be deported once dues are settled,? he said, adding that the Ministry of Haj will represent pilgrims.