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MUMBAI: The Shivaji Nagar police arrested an agent who promised to send people to Saudi Arabia as khadim (helper) during the Haj this year. The accused, Saleem Usman Shaikh, collected Rs 5,000 each from more than 2,000 people and lured them with a free trip to Mecca and a monthly salary of Rs 16,000.

Additional commissioner of police Qauiser Khalid said, "We received complaints from a group of social activists in the second week of September. The victims told the police that Shaikh had promised them a free trip to Mecca and charged Rs 5,000 each for medical examination. He had told many people that their flights were scheduled to leave for Jeddah on September 23. However, he shut his office and escaped on September 11. We traced him at Shivaji Nagar and charged him with cheating."

Two days ago the police said two youths who had come in an auto with three bags left it saying it was for one 'Saleembhai'. The bags were later given to the police who found 1,468 passports lying

in them. The passports belonged to people from Maharashtra, Karnataka and AP. Khalid said one more case has been registered against Shaikh in a Gulbarga police station. "We found 350 passports belonging to people from Gulbarga and 280 from various parts of AP," said Khalid.

Sources said that it was not just Rs 5,000 medical fee.

"The accused person had given the contract for bringing clients to other agents and sub-agents. Many sub-agents charged between Rs 7,000 and Rs 25,000 per person," sources said. "The fraud is much bigger than what has been mentioned in the police record," said an observer.

The scam, say sources, if probed properly many layers of agents and sub-agents, who cheat people every year in the name of the holy journey, will be exposed. On an average, Haj journeyfor an Indian costs around Rs 1.5 lakh. The Khadims who are sent by various recruiting agencies to help Haj pilgrims generally pay between Rs 25,000 and Rs 40,000 per head for four months. However, no salary is given to them.

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    Basavaraj Harsur


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