BY GIFF JOHNSON
Marshall Islands Correspondent
MAJURO, Marshall Islands — The manager of a Majuro travel agency has been hit with criminal theft charges after accepting payments from intending United Airlines passengers, but not providing the airline tickets.
The Marshall Islands Attorney General’s office has filed two counts each of theft by unlawful taking and theft by deception against Majuro travel agent Swinton Laikidrik who manages REA Travel. The charges were filed in the High Court by Assistant Attorney General Yolanda Lodge-Ned.
They are based on the complaints of Majuro residents Yaichi Hanchor and Peterson Akilang who both say they paid Laikidrik $1,050 for one-way tickets to Arkansas on United Airlines. But when they showed up to catch their flight in mid-March, they were told by airline check in staff that there were no reservations in the computer system for them and the confirmation numbers they provided were invalid.
The problem encountered by Hanchor and Akilang coincided with reports in mid-March by other Majuro residents of United canceling tickets based on allegedly fraudulent purchases. United Airlines Corporate Communications did not offer any detail in response to questions about this situation. “We decline to comment on this specific matter, but we have no tolerance for any kind of fraudulent activity to our business,” the airline said in a statement responding to an inquiry.
“I was informed by the local United Airlines representative that there had been a massive fraud involving tickets for dates from March 9 to March 15 and that United had canceled many people’s tickets, stranding them,” a visitor to Majuro said. “I myself had a ticket canceled by United that they claim was fraudulent and they seem to be taking a broad sword to this situation, canceling people’s Mileage Plus accounts and yet not being able to pinpoint the source of the fraud.”
Hanchor told police investigators that after he tried to check in and was told he did not have a reservation, he spoke to station manager Salome Andrike. He said she told him tickets from Laikidrik were no good and that “United does not accept or recognize any tickets from Swinton.” When the pair went back to Laikidrik to find out what was happening with their tickets, they said he told them, “I forgot to inform you that United has denied tickets I’m issuing out.” He told them he couldn’t give them an immediate refund and needed two weeks to check with United.
Several days after this snafu at the airport, Hanchor and Akilang filed complaints with Marshall Islands Police Department Criminal Investigation Division.
A three-day preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 4 to June 6 by Judge Colin Winchester. Chief Public Defender Russell Kun is representing Laikidrik. mbj