Warrant of arrest issued for Priority Escapes' MD

08 December 2023 - 16:57
By Wendy Knowler
A couple allegedly defrauded of more than R130,000 by Priority Escapes has roped in advocate Gerrie Nel to fight on their behalf.
Image: 123RF/KANTVER A couple allegedly defrauded of more than R130,000 by Priority Escapes has roped in advocate Gerrie Nel to fight on their behalf.

Police have issued an arrest warrant for alleged holiday swindler Francois Swart, whose Fourways-based travel agency Priority Escapes stands accused of being paid millions for Maldives package holidays which it failed to book.

This was revealed on Friday afternoon by AfriForum’s private prosecution unit, which represents two complainants who filed a criminal complaint against Swart at the Modimolle police station in August.

The pair were allegedly defrauded of more than R130,000 by Priority Escapes.

The unit wrote to the station commander expressing concern that a straightforward case of fraud had apparently been referred to the Hawks for investigation.

“The suspect received full payment from the complainants for him to fulfil holiday arrangements on their behalf,” said unit head advocate Gerrie Nel in that letter.

“The misrepresentation was furthered when the suspect issued documents purporting that the holiday was arranged and paid in full. It has since been confirmed that the documents the complainants received are false,” said Nel.

AfriForum said police have confirmed to the unit in writing that a J50 warrant of arrest had been issued against Swart, and that their clients' case is being investigated at station level. 

“We are hopeful that this matter will now receive the attention it deserves and reiterate that society demands that complaints are dealt with speedily and that the principle of ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is firmly restored in the criminal justice system,” Nel said.

Priority Escapes closed its doors on Saturday August 12, having been reportedly taking bookings until the day before. Swart also shut down the company’s website and all its social media platforms at that time.

The agency had kept punting direct flight packages to the Maldives this year, despite the fact that Air Seychelles stopped operating that route since December 2022.

Many of its customers were told very shortly before their departure date that the direct flights were no longer available when in fact, they were not available at the time they booked and paid for their package holidays, and the flight confirmation details they were given were false.

Last-minute bookings on indirect flights via Emirates and Qatar were made by some, at sky high prices.

Many arrived at the island to discover that their hotel accommodation had not been paid for either. One couple, Devasha Tomlinson and her husband, landed at Maldives’ Malé airport to be told by their chosen resort that their accommodation had not been paid by Priority Escapes. Hotel representatives refused to transport them to the resort unless they paid another R95,000 for their stay, which they did.

In late August, Swart’s lawyer insisted that “the funds received by Priority Escapes have not been used to benefit Swart or anyone else”, that the business’s bank account had been “unlawfully” frozen by his bank and that criminal charges laid against Swart were “doomed to fail”.

Do you need help with a consumer issue? Contact Wendy Knowler for advice via e-mail consumer@knowler.co.za or on X (Twitter) @wendyknowler