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Duped and dumped: Pain of tourists in hands of fake agents

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Con artists posing as tour agents have swindled hundreds of tourists from various parts of the world, threating Kenya’s image as a tourist destination.

The con men use fake online campaigns, complete with sweet reviews and budget tourism packages to lure foreigners who make advance payments before they are abandoned in Kenya once they arrive and pay the rest of the cash.

The Sunday Nation has also learnt that the cartel, which runs deep in the industry, has perfected the art of evading law enforcement officers by changing names, staff and tourist vans before resurfacing during high seasons to mint millions from helpless tourists visiting the country.

One of the latest victims of such a scam is Mr Chen Dong Yuan, a 51-year-old Chinese engineer from Changsha, who could not have been more excited to take advantage of the direct flights launched by the China Southern Airlines in June to visit Kenya.

Kenya had lauded the airline’s bi-weekly flights from Changsha and back to Nairobi with its 330-200 Airbus planes, added to the non-stop flights to Guangzhou, as one of the biggest boosts to its tourism sector with prolific tourists from China, ranked by United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) as the world’s top spender on tourism in 2017.

Mr Chen had no idea what awaited him and his five friends in Nairobi after planning and paying 50 per cent deposit to Kenya Walking Survivors Safaris Limited for the eight nights in different tourism spots around the country. That was in early July.

Their plane touched down on the morning of July 31 and what was their lifetime dream to take a nine-day tour of Kenya began with a driver from the company promptly picking them from the airport.

“We went to their officers where I paid $2,820 (about Sh295,000), which he insisted should be in cash. We then set off for Amboseli for two nights as per the itinerary. We had the vehicle but the driver changed outside Nairobi. On our way back, the driver told us the company that handed us to him had suddenly closed and our trip could not continue unless we made fresh arrangements,” Chen told the Sunday Nation, beginning his tragic tale of tourists in the hands of con men. In a foreign country and in the middle of a tour, a sudden stop was unimaginable. Their online guide (Mr Otieno Lysaniash) who also received the money when they arrived, had switched off his phone and true to the driver’s words, the office located at Vision Plaza was closed.

Mr Chen chose to complete the trip when the driver suggested that if they paid more, he would take them to the Maasai Mara, Naivasha and Nakuru as per the previous plan. They agreed and paid, doubling their tour budget and turning an otherwise happy trip into a struggle to beat the cons and survive any other attempt to fleece them. The driver, Stanslaus Ongeri, told the Sunday Nationthat he was only hired as a freelancer by the firm and did not know the whereabouts of its owner, Mr Otieno, who he also claims made him to lose Sh25,000 in unpaid expenses.

The con victims had only Mr Ongeri after they were abandoned. Given the limited time they had and the shock that came with the first attempt to scuttle their trip, they had little choice but to rely on him even to report the matter to the police, despite the mistrust they developed towards him for having been part of the company that swindled them.

In Maasai Mara, they met another group of tourists who immediately identified the driver and attempted to beat him up.

They had been swindled by the same company and it took Mr Chen’s group to protect their driver from the angry tourists, an experience Mr Ongeri admitted but again claimed to have been an innocent freelance driver. It was getting worse and they could not trust him again.

“We hardly slept and every time we had to leave the car, we took the car keys so that he doesn’t abandon us. It is very sad that so many other tourists could be going through such an experience. The Kenyan government must save this situation because it will dampen the desire among those coming to visit the country. We are going back to China very bitter,” Mr Chen, whose case was booked at the Industrial Area Police Station under OB65/2/8/2019, said.

True to his words, many people have suffered under the travel agency, which seems to have mastered the art of swindling foreigners, closing shop and re-emerging only during high season.

The plot involves creating attractive packages and engaging foreigners online in a manner  suggesting good customer service. Once they are in the hook, the tourists, who in many cases have fixed schedules and have no other contact people in the country, are abandoned sometimes at the border crossings between either Kenya and Uganda or deep in the game lodges to find their way back and travel to their home countries.

The con men also change the key contact people once the tourists arrive, including a different driver to cut links before leaving them stranded.

Travel sites have already blacklisted the firm with its reviews, which are said to be doctored to mislead tourists.

“TripAdvisor has grounds to investigate that individuals or entities associated with this property may have attempted to interfere with traveller reviews and/or the Popularity Index for this property. Please take this into consideration when researching your travel plans,” the travel site flagged on its website this week.

The Sunday Nation could not reach Mr Otieno as his Mombasa Road office remained closed as adjacent shops either feigned ignorance or were too scared to talk about the firm.

Online, tens of tourists from around the world complained of bitter experiences after their trips were cancelled just before their departure dates while dealing with Kenya Walking Survivors Safaris Limited.

Some of those affected from Canada, Argentina, Taiwan, India, US, Brazil and the United Kingdom have reported the cases to the police with little action taken.

“Our honeymoon trip is in three days and we just received an e-mail that the company has technical problems and therefore cannot give the required services. Mr Otieno just wrote that we will receive the funds between 45-90 working days. I’m really panicking,” a couple from the US wrote on Friday.

Kenya received some 2.1 million tourists in 2018, with the US remaining the top source. China, which was ranked sixth, sent 81,709 representing a 4.03 per cent growth from the previous year.

Attempts to reach Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala on the happenings that are now a big threat to tourism in Kenya were futile as it emerged he had accompanied President Uhuru Kenyatta on a tour of  Jamaica.

BY nation.co.ke

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DPP Haji now targets Keroche power couple with Sh14 billion tax evasion suit

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DPP Noordin Haji has ordered for the arrest and arraignment of Keroche Breweries directors Tabitha Karanja and Joseph Karanja for allegedly evading taxes amounting Sh14.45 billion since 2015.

In a statement to newsrooms, the DPP said investigations revealed that the directors could be culpable of 10 counts of tax fraud between January 2015 to June 2019.

The DPP said the KRA commissioner general submitted an inquiry file to his office on August 18 and an audit by KRA established that Keroche Breweries had evaded payment of tax tallying to Sh14,451,836,375.

The amount evaded, according to the DPP, included stamps valued at Sh329,424,019, Crescent Vodka brand valued at Sh135,402,950 among other products registered under the company.

The exercise duty evaded on the said products, according to KRA, amounted to Sh2,101,846,768 billion.

IN PUBLIC INTEREST

The DPP says that he is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence and that it is in the public interest to charge the suspects with 10 counts of tax fraud contrary to the Tax Procedures Act of 2015.

For more than a decade, Keroche has been battling with Kenya Revenue Authority over tax arrears the brewer owes the taxman.

In 2017, a three-judge Court of Appeal bench ruled that KRA had abused its powers by sending a tax demand of the three tax heads and penalties amounting to Sh1.1 billion through a letter dated November 29, 2006.

The ruling was the third in the 10-year battle in favour of the brewer, which gave them a fresh lease of life to the 20-year-old Keroche.

The letter was dismissed as unreasonable because it had come without an accompanying schedule of details of the said assessment and without proper notices.

The revenue authority had appealed an earlier decision by the High Court on July 6, 2007, where Justice Joseph Nyamu had prohibited the taxman from demanding the taxes, citing “abuse of powers”.

The taxman, who was also demanding an additional Value Added Tax of Sh305 million, was basing the tax bill on an assessment carried out in 2006, where some Keroche products had allegedly not been given the right classification, hence being subject to lower taxation.

by nairobinews

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SPONSORED: “Mahiga Homes” wins 2 coveted Real Estate Awards [VIDEO]

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The Leading Real Estate Developer Mahiga homes Ltd won two major coveted awards in The Real Estate Excellence Awards, namely:

1. Best in off plan Residential Sales
2. Best low cost low rise Residential Developer.
This comes in the wake of being recognized internationally by being awarded The Leading Real Estate Brand 2019 by UK based ranking company Global Brand Awards.
This makes Mahiga homes Ltd the best company with the most Awards totaling to 7 since it started operations 2 years ago.

The previous awards are:
KPRA Awards
1. The Rockie of the Year 2018
2. Affordable Housing Initiative

 

Real Estate Excellence Awards 2018
1. Most Promising Residential Developer 2018
2. Best Low Cost Residential Developer 2018

www.mahigahomes.co.ke
+254720460413

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SPONSORED: Optiven Foundation feted for transforming lives across Kenya

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Optiven Foundation has been feted for it’s role in transforming the society. This was at The Voice Awards held at the Louis Leakey auditorium in Parklands Nairobi on 16th August 2019. The event which was the first to be held in Kenya by it’s owners based in Netherlands, attracted a number of dignitaries and was officially addressed by the Deputy President Dr. William Ruto.

The award to Optiven Foundation was received by the Optiven Group General Manager, Mary Wacukah who is also a trustee of the Optiven Foundation. Speaking shortly after receiving the award Mrs. Wacukah “this award is a true reflection of what the foundation stands for which is to make a difference in the lives of the community.

” She commended all those who support the endeavors of the foundation which she noted has been a great input towards ensuring that the community we live in is a better place saying, “The Optiven Foundation is supported by Optiven Limited and well wishers who come together to ensure that our brothers and sisters live in dignity and their lives are transformed.

Truly when giving you do not just do it for the other person, but it also teaches us to be grateful for what we have.” While appreciated the trustees and philanthropists, she added that the foundation is wholly supported by Optiven Limited where 5% of all profits from real estate are used to cater for the myriad needs of the Optiven Foundation.

voicesawards

Mrs. Wacuka was accompanied at the event by the Chairman of Optiven Foundation, Mr. George Wachiuri, Ms. Jerusha Abasalom – the Diaspora Manager, top associates of Optiven Limited and who are also philanthropists in their own right Mr. James Mugo and Mr. John Owiro and Ms. Joyce Njambi, the team leader for the Optiven Foundation among others.

Ambassador Pastor Elvis Iruh, the founder of The Voice Magazine in the Netherlands and who partners with Moving Minds Africa to bring the award to Kenya congratulated the team from Optiven Foundation saying their impact in society cannot be underestimated. Ambassador Iruh further noted that the team from Optiven had been receipient of another award which was bestowed to the Chairman Mr. George Wachiuri in 2019 at the Le Koning Hotel at the Hague in the Netherlands in 2018.

He added that both Mr. Wachiuri and the Optiven Foundation had been leaving print marks in the lives of people across the world with the work they are doing in transforming lives through philanthropy. He singled out the efforts to renovate and rehabilitate children living at the Soweto Children’s Home in Kayole where the Optiven Foundation has built classrooms and dormitories as well as provided the daily needs for the children who are fully dependent on the foundation.

voice awards2

ABOVE: Partners visiting with the Optiven Foundation ahead of The Voice Awards ceremony at the Louis Leakey Auditorium on 16/8/2019

The Optiven Foundation works with the less fortunate in society in order to make their lives better.  Since it’s inception, the foundation has worked in the areas of environment, health and education among others. With key partnerships with different counties, the foundation has been involved with various cleanups including in Kajiado County and Nairobi County.

In adherence to the UN Millenium Development Goals, the Optiven Foundation has adapted environmentally friendly models on all it’s projects including use of biodigesters to save on water, afforestation to increase forest cover as well as participating in community projects that ensure sustainability. With regard to education, the Foundation launched the Soaring Eagles Program with the key mandate to provide opportunities for education for students who have challenges in paying for their education but are keen on performance.

Over the years, Optiven Foundation has given scholarships to students across the country and in every country. On matters health, the Optiven Foundation has provided support to communities through hosting medical camps, monetary support to cover health matters, civic education on the importance of insurance especially covering medical matters as well as community facilitation to persons living with disability. Through it’s Mobility that Brings Smiles campaign, Optiven Foundation has been able to partner with different associates to provide those living with disability with wheelchairs.

Through partnerships with individuals of good will, the foundation has since donated wheelchairs to deserving cases in Nairobi County, Nyeri County, Machakos County and Kiambu County. As the need for the said wheelchairs is immense the foundation is seeking partners to further spread the mobility that brings smiles through enabling persons living with disability to be able to be mobile.

To Support the Foundation Contact Us

Optiven Group Foundation
Head Office: 
Barclays Plaza, 14th Floor ,Wing A
Tel: +254 20 2484022, +254 718 776033
Email: info@optivenfoundation.org

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