Pilgrimage travel agency under investigation for allegedly losing IDR1 trillion of customers’ money

The Ka’bah in Mecca, Islam’s most sacred site.
The Ka’bah in Mecca, Islam’s most sacred site.

It seems that there is no end to travel agencies in Indonesia literally robbing customers of their hard-earned money by exploiting their desire to go on the religious journey of a lifetime. After the First Travel scandal last year, one of the biggest religion-based scams Indonesia has ever seen, it appears an even bigger one may have just been uncovered.

Today, the South Sulawesi Provincial Police announced that it’s investigating a travel agency called Abu Tours after it was reported to the authorities for failing to send its paying customers to Saudi Arabia for the Umra pilgrimage.

According to the police, over 50,000 customers had paid for the company’s Umra travel package, earning the agency around IDR1 trillion (US$72.6 million). But authorities say the agency lost their money, partly due to reinvestment and partly because it was used to fund the lavish lifestyles of its owners.

“[They bought] luxurious cars like a Lamborghini and also motorcycles using the money,” said South Sulawesi Police Spokesperson Dicky Sondani, as quoted by Detik today.

Dicky said that the agency’s staff haven’t received their salaries either.

The South Sulawesi Police’s Special Crimes Investigation Unit is now investigating the agency’s cash flow to determine where it all went. No suspects have been named yet.

Last year, a similar case involving a travel agency called First Travel became one of the biggest scandals in Indonesia. The agency sold promotional Umrah tour packages at a relatively cheap (but unsustainable) price to 72,682 customers. However, the agency only managed to send the first 14,000 of its customers on Umrah, using revenue generated from subsequent customers, before their company went bust, owing its customers IDR848 billion with little to no possibility for refund.

First Travel’s owners, the husband and wife team of Andika Surachman and Anniesa Hasibuan, were subsequently arrested along with Anniesa’s sister for financial fraud. According to reports, the First Travel owners used their customers’ money to fund their lavish lifestyles, including Anniesa paying around US$200,000 to enter her Muslim fashion line into New York Fashion Week last year, the couple buying luxurious houses and cars, spending IDR1.7 billion (US$125,000) during one trip to a mall and spending Rp 400 million ($29,000) on curtains, among others.

The suspects are still on trial and could face life imprisonment if convicted of numerous counts of financial fraud.

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