A travel firm offering Hajj and Umrah trips and its director have been ordered to pay £43,000 – after being convicted last year for misleading customers – at Birmingham Crown Court today (17 August 2017).
Birmingham City Council successfully prosecuted Islam Freedom Limited following an investigation by Trading Standards officers, assisted by City of London Police, as part of a national project to tackle Hajj and Umrah fraud in 2014.
Islam Freedom Limited – which was based 34 Green Street, Newham and linked to Holy Makkah Tours Limited, which also traded from that address and 548A Coventry Road, Small Heath – was found guilty of five offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 at an earlier hearing (17 August 2016).
Company director Shah Shahin Chowdhury (44), of Hazelbeech Road, West Bromwich, was also found guilty of five offences under the same legislation.
The company was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs. A nominal order of £1 was made under the Proceeds of Crime Act against Islam Freedom Limited.
Chowdhury was also fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs, and was disqualified for four years from holding any directorship. He was also ordered to pay £13,000 within three months pursuant to a confiscation order made under Proceeds of Crime Act.
Islam Freedom Limited’s practices came to Trading Standards’ attention following a routine inspection of travel websites in September 2013. The company’s website – www.islamfreedom.com – stated customers could ‘book with confidence’ as their packages were ATOL protected.
On 19 February 2014, a Trading Standards officer viewed the company’s website, which still displayed an ATOL logo, and called to enquire about a Hajj tour. When asked if company was ATOL bonded, the officer was advised that Islam Freedom Limited was ATOL bonded.
Islam Freedom Limited’s ATOL licence, which is a legal requirement for travel firms selling package holidays, had expired on 31 March 2013.
Councillor Barbara Dring, Chair of the city council’s Licensing and Public Protection Committee, said: “This case highlights the need for people booking any holiday to be aware that internet-based travel firms have to adhere to the same codes of practice as those based on the High Street.
“It is also a great example of how working closely with our local authority partners has helped us bring a successful prosecution.
“Trading Standards is here to protect Hajj pilgrims from being ripped off by unscrupulous travel providers. We know it’s important to take action to protect pilgrims and to ensure there is a level playing field for all businesses.”
Holy Makkah Tours Limited and its director Mohammed Suba Ibn Nozir admitted seven offences under the legislation and were ordered to pay a total of £71,417 at Birmingham Crown Court last month (19 July 2017).