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The Straits Times
July 7, 2022
A man ran a travel package scam and 85 people were duped into believing that they could secure places for their haj to Mecca at a discount.
As a result, they were conned into handing over their passports, with most of them also giving cash totalling more than $97,000.
On Thursday (July 7), Mohd Ramlee AB Samad, 62, was sentenced to two years' jail after he pleaded guilty to 20 counts of cheating. Another 65 charges were considered during sentencing.
He had committed the offences in 2018.
The court heard that the victims did not suffer any financial losses as the monies seized during investigations were enough to cover them.
However, Deputy Public Prosecutors Ryan Lim and Tan Zhi Hao said Ramlee should receive little credit for this as he himself had made no restitution.
The haj is the fifth pillar of Islam and it is obligatory for able Muslims to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at least once if they have the means.
The number of haj places available for Singaporeans is subject to the availability of quota allotted by Saudi Arabia for the year.
The quota for Singaporeans and Singapore permanent residents is allocated by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. In 2018, haj took place in August, the court heard.
The prosecution told Deputy Principal District Judge Luke Tan that Ramlee had deceived the victims though his friend Fahrorazi Sohoi, who was an Islamic religious teacher at the time.
DPPs Lim and Tan stated in court documents: "Not only did this allow the accused to distance himself from the fraud, it also enabled him to make use of Fahrorazi's position as a religious teacher to perpetrate the scam.
"This gave the scam a veil of legitimacy and helped convince the victims that the purported discounted trip was legitimate."
Fahrorazi was charged in August 2018 with one count of cheating.
He was then accused of duping a man into paying him $1,550 to perform a "VIP haj" at the invitation of the Saudi Embassy.
Fahrorazi was later given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal on this charge. This means he could be prosecuted again if new evidence were to surface.
In January last year, the former religious teacher, then 49, was fined $2,000 for organising a gathering without a valid permit in 2018.
He had organised an event called Maulidur Rasul to mark the birth of Prophet Muhammad, attracting about 400 people. It took place at the Pu Tian Building in Geylang.
For the current case, the court heard that in May 2018, Ramlee told Fahrorazi that places for a discounted trip for haj that year were available.
Ramlee claimed that he had been told about them by a man called Mohsein, "a representative from the Saudi authorities who had been liaising with staff from the Istana" about the trip.
The DPPs said: "(According to Ramlee), flights and accommodation for this trip would be paid for by the Saudi authorities, and participants would only need to pay $1,550 for (items such) as airport tax (and) administrative fees.
"The quota for participants of the trip would be obtained under Batam's and Brunei's as Singapore's haj quota was full."
Ramlee then asked Fahrorazi to look for interested participants, specifically those who had not performed the haj before.
Fahrorazi was to collect payment and passports from them. In return, he was promised $200 per participant as commission.
Fahrorazi agreed and went on to spread the word about the trip.
The DPPs told the court: "This purported trip was in fact a scam perpetrated by the accused. At all material times, the accused knew that there was never any such trip.
"The accused intended to deceive others, through Fahrorazi, into believing that the trip was genuine, so as to cheat them into paying monies towards the non-existent trip."
Through Fahrorazi, Ramlee deceived 85 people between July and August 2018.
Ramlee had induced all of them into handing over their passports.
The court heard that 69 of the victims were also duped into paying a total of more than $97,000 for the purported trip.
On or around Aug 13, 2018, Ramlee left Singapore for Batam.
Some of the victims later suspected that they had been conned after Fahrorazi told them that the purported departure date had been delayed from Aug 16, 2018, to the next day.
One of Fahrorazi's students then lodged a police report on the victims' behalf and Ramlee was arrested when he returned to Singapore on Oct 4, 2018.
On Thursday, Ramlee was offered bail of $30,000 and was told to surrender himself at the State Courts on July 21 to begin serving his sentence.
For each count of cheating, an offender can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.