TOUGH times await travel agencies involved in the crime of issuing air tickets to unscrupulous people for fraudulent purchase of Business Travel Allowance (BTA) with same tickets subsequently voided once the fraud has been committed.

Information gathered by SaturdayTribune indicated that henceforth, such travel agencies may not only have their operating licenses withdrawn, but the travellers involved in the fraud may also risk being listed on the aviation security ‘no-fly list’ shared with the government security agencies on the aviation (airports/airlines) security defence layers.

The latest is coming after the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the global clearing house for airlines had alerted the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA) on how some members of the association according to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had continued to engage in the economic sabotage of the country by colluding with unpatriotic fellows to issue them BTA through the back door.

A letter which emanated from IATA dated, 23rd September, 2021 and addressed to the President of NANTA, Mrs Susan Akporiaye by the head of Account Management, West and Central Africa (IATA), Dr Samson Fatokun, titled: ‘Issuance of Tickets for Fraudulent Purchase of BTA’, stated: “The CBN called my attention to the criminal practice of air tickets being issued to unscrupulous persons for fraudulent purchase of BTA and same tickets are voided the same day once the economic fraud has been committed. This nefarious activity amounts to economic sabotage as it constitutes a leakage in the CBN foreign exchange supply system.

“Issuing tickets for the sole purpose of purchasing BTA and voiding those tickets thereafter, termed ‘Ticket renting’, is fraudulent and amounts to participating in economic sabotage. You are advised to alert your members about this fraudulent practice and warn that whichever agent that might be involved in this economic sabotage to desist from it”.

Following the revelation. information gathered by Saturday Tribune h a s shown that at a prolonged emergency meeting held between NANTA and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) where the issue was deliberated upon, the regulatory agency has concluded plans to descend heavily on any agency found culpable in the criminality.

The meeting according to the spokesperson of the NCAA, Mr Sam Adurogboye, was for fact finding and to seek the support of NANTA to fish out the bad eggs within their fold who are notorious for engaging in the corrupt practices.

Facts have again emerged that both NANTA and the NCAA, the aviation regulatory body responsible for monitoring the activities of the registered members of the association have commenced investigations to uncover the syndicate among the agencies. Speaking with the Saturday Tribune, the president o f NANTA , Mrs Susan Akporiaye exonerated her members from the illegality but pointed accusing fingers at those she categorised as non registered travel agencies who are not under the authority of NANTA.

According to Akporiaye: “It was not traced to any of my members. It was an observation that some travel agents are engaging in such practices. As you know very well that not all travel agencies in Nigeria are registered with NANTA but unfortunately when travel agents engage in wrong practices they write to NANTA because we are the only travel trade association recognised by government but in most cases upon investigation, we will find out that they are not NANTA members.

“NANTA members are trained professionals we engage our members in training and retraining. We engage our members on right business practices even before the letter came to us the issue had gotten to us and immediately, we started engaging our members on the dangers of such practices, so our members are very well aware they are not to be involved in such practices”.

For the Managing Director of Centurion Security and a former military commandant of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Group Captain John Ojikutu(rtd), the fraudulent practice is not limited to travel agencies but also officials of the airlines who engage in selling such fraudulent tickets to travelers.

Speaking on how to tackle the problem, Ojikutu declared: “Keep records of such travelers and a band on their travel plans which must not be more than 60 days from the date the BTA was given by the bank otherwise, the BTA is returned to the bank where it was sold. Failure to return the BTA, the traveler must be listed on the aviation security no-fly-list shared with the government security agencies on the aviation (airports/airlines) security defense layers.”

All efforts to get reactions from the CBN corporate unit failed as the officials are rather than elaborate on it claimed the apex bank body had “addressed this issue succinctly during the post monetary policy meeting briefing held earlier”.

Since the corrupt practice was exposed, the CBN had directed all commercial banks to publish on their websites, the names and Bank Verification Numbers (BVN) of customers who participate in such fraudulent and unscrupulous tactics to obtain foreign exchange from banks.

This was stated in a circular titled, “Publication of names of Defaulters of a CBN policy on sale of Forex for PTA/ BTA” and signed by the bank’s Director, Banking Supervision Department, Haruna Mustafa.

According to the CBN, such fraudulent acts include: the use of fake visas and the cancellation of air tickets following the purchase of Personal Travel Allowance and Business Travel Allowance. While some of the commercial banks have started implementing the CBN directives, the NCAA in conjunction with NANATA has swung into action to not only fish out the culpable travel agencies but also deal with them.

Source: Nigeria Tribune

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