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Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 16:33 GMT
Bangladesh tackles pilgrimage fraud
The Ka'aba in Grand Mosque in Mecca
Pilgrims circling the Kaaba in Mecca
By the BBC's Alastair Lawson in Dhaka

The Bangladeshi Government has accused one of the country's top tour companies of behaving dishonestly in the sale of tickets to prospective pilgrims.

The company sold around 9,000 tickets to Muslims hoping to take part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

None of the pilgrims has been able to go to Saudi Arabia - even though the first flight should have left over a week ago.

Man feeding camels
Camels being fattened for post-Hajj festivities

The Civil Aviation Minister, Mir Nasiruddin, says that the Air Bangladesh tour company deceived the government into believing it had completed the correct paper work for its aircraft to carry passengers.

The firm was, in fact, only permitted to carry cargo.

Hundreds of the pilgrims are now stranded in a camp near Dhaka's international airport.

This is the first year that the government has allowed independent tour operators to organise flights for pilgrims to the Hajj and it looks as if the experiment has become a fiasco.

Nine thousand people are hoping to make, what for many, is a once in a lifetime round trip at a cost of over $800.

But the Bangladeshi government says the tour company which sold the tickets hasn't completed the correct paperwork.

Breaking rules

The Aviation Minister, Mir Nasiruddin, says the aircraft chartered by Air Bangladesh do not have permission to fly over most countries.

He says the company's aircraft would not be permitted by the Saudi authorities to land in Jeddah with passengers.

The government says that legal action will now be taken against Air Bangladesh for breaching Civil Aviation Authority rules.

It seems that the only hope the pilgrims now have of making it to the Hajj is if the government can find them seats elsewhere.

PM Khaleda Zia
Khaleda Zia promised to fight corruption

Frantic negotiations are taking place between the government and the travel agents association of Bangladesh.

But tickets to Saudi Arabia at this time of the year are highly sought after and expensive.

An estimated 30,000 Bangladeshis travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj.

Air Bangladesh spokesman, Shahjalal Majumdar, says the company's problems revolved around the late arrival of a passenger aircraft in Bangladesh from India.

He says the firm's application to transport the pilgrims had been submitted several months ago and that the government then had found no irregularities with the paperwork.

See also:

30 Dec 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh corruption targeted
03 Oct 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh's Islamic revival
05 Mar 01 | Middle East
Hajj perils, ancient and modern
05 Mar 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Death at the Hajj
04 Mar 01 | Middle East
Hajj reaches climax
03 Mar 01 | Middle East
Hajj pilgrims take to the road
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