Rogue travel agent jailed for non-existent flights scam
A businessman who scammed holiday makers out of around £30,000 by taking their cash and failing to supply them with flight tickets has been jailed for 21 months.
Chetan Pal Panesar, of Regent Street, Handsworth, was sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court on 21 October 2019, having admitted one count of fraudulent trading contrary to section 993(1) of the Companies Act 2006 at a previous hearing on 18 March 2019.
A confiscation order was also applied for under the Proceeds of Crime Act in order to recover the money lost by Panesar’s victims.
The investigation into Panesar was led by officers from Birmingham City Council Trading Standards, following a number of complaints from consumers, who lost tens of thousands of pounds when tickets booked through Panesar’s company, E Tickets Worldwide Limited, failed to arrive, leaving their holiday plans in disarray. Panesar’s wife, Vinya Panesar, was the sole shareholder and director of E Tickets Worldwide Limited. All charges against her were dropped.
Between April 2016 and March 2017, numerous customers paid money for flights but received nothing – and in some cases even arrived at their departure airport with their bags packed, expecting to catch flights that they had paid for, only to find that E Tickets Worldwide Limited had not paid for their tickets. Some victims were stranded abroad as the return flight tickets had not been booked or paid for by Panesar.
Customers not only paid for tickets, but in many cases handed their cash to Panesar, who assured them that their flights had been booked and paid for. Some of the victims were forced to buy replacement tickets in order to reach their destination.
Panesar, who was the mastermind behind the scam, appeared to target Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities, with most customers buying flights to Jamaica, Abu Dubai, India, USA and Nigeria.
Many customers were going to visit family members, some of whom were very ill. One mother was taking her daughter to spend Christmas with her grandmother only to arrive at London Heathrow Airport only to find that rather than paying for her flights, Panesar had kept her money.
Another customer booked and paid for return flights to Jamaica for him and his children only to find that his return flights were then cancelled by Panesar whilst he was in Jamaica leaving him stranded and having to borrow money to fly himself and his sons home.
Customers lost amounts ranging between £400 to £4,520. In some cases, they could not afford to buy replacement tickets and had to borrow money from friends or family or even take out a bank loan.
On 21 March 2017, a search was carried out at Panesar’s home address and the business address of E Tickets Worldwide Limited.
Documentation was seized and Panesar was subsequently arrested and interviewed under caution.
Initially, he claimed that a corrupt manager had been stealing money from the business as well as cancelling all the reservations. However, this was not the case and Panesar subsequently pleaded guilty to one charge of fraudulent trading.
Cllr Phil Davis, chair of the city council’s Licensing and Public Protection Committee, said: “I welcome today’s sentence of Chetan Pal Panesar, which sends out a clear message to other rogue traders that such unscrupulous business practices will not be tolerated in our city and we will prosecute.”
Sajeela Naseer, head of Birmingham City Council Trading Standards, said: “This department will do everything possible to protect consumers from rogue travel agents like Mr Panesar. Many of these vulnerable victims, who trusted Mr Panesar to provide flights, suffered emotionally as well as financially from the difficulties that arose from this fraudulent trading. It is important that consumers conduct their own research into the travel company that they are thinking of using and make sure it is really a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected by checking online.”