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Moscow prosecutor’s office says chiefs of Labirint travel agency stole 100 million rubles

August 07, 2014, 13:19 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Labirint travel agency wound up its business august 5, leaving about 500 of its clients stranded abroad and depriving about 1,300 voucher holders of their vacation

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© ITAR-TASS/Artyom Korotayev

MOSCOW, August 07. /ITAR-TASS/. Moscow prosecutor’s office suspects the chiefs of the tour firm Labirint embezzled no less than 100 million rubles.

“The chiefs of the limited liability partnership Labirint originally had no intention to honor their liabilities (to clients). They failed to transfer the necessary payments to the air carrier — Orenburg Airlines. The cash that they received from retail customers — no less than 100 million rubles — was used at their discretion,” the statement issued by the prosecutor’s office runs.

 Labirint stopped operations on August 2, leaving about 25,000 holidaymakers abroad.

The root cause of the string of Russian tour operators’ bankruptcies, which began in the middle of July, is unscrupulous methods of doing business by their owners, Russia’s Investigative Committee said, adding that several companies were faced with criminal proceedings on fraud charges.

The five companies whose financial transactions are in the focus of investigators’ attention are Labirint, Roza Vetrov Mir, Ideal Tour, Neva and Expo Tour.

Investigators say the owners of all these companies, long unable to provide travel services due to huge debts, kept selling vouchers to unsuspecting customers. Some clients who had already paid for the travel services had to cancel their holiday plans, and those already on vacation encountered problems with getting back home. At the moment about 8,000 Russian tourists remain abroad. Tens of thousands have sustained material losses.

The investigation is going to bring to justice all owners and managers of the problem tour firms who are responsible for the defaults.

The string of bankruptcies on the Russian tourist market started in the middle of July, when one of the oldest tourist firms - Neva - declared it was no longer able to honour its liabilities to clients.

The embattled companies are blaming their problems on EU sanctions, currency exchange rate fluctuations and the ban on foreign trips by those employed in the law enforcement. However, experts are saying that the wish to dodge responsibility was behind the bankruptcies of tour operators whose businesses very much resembled financial pyramids.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev instructed the law enforcement agencies to probe into the fraudulent schemes. A special joint working group incorporating officials from all government ministries concerned is expected to present proposals for reforming the industry within two weeks.

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