The company responsible for gathering and facilitating requests from prospective Haj pilgrims living in Western countries has at least one investor with close links to the government of India, Middle East Eye reports.
Saudi Arabian authorities announced last week that Haj pilgrims from Australia, Europe, and the United States would have to apply for visas via the government portal Motawif, a move intended to crack down on what it called “fake” travel agencies.
Saudi authorities have released few statements explaining why the decision was being implemented so close to this year’s Haj, but an MEE investigation reveals that an individual who helped facilitate millions of dollars of investment in Traveazy — a company based in Dubai which has been exclusively engaged to process Western applications through Motawif – has links with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Prashant Prakash, vice-president, and partner of venture capital firm Accel India has served on the National Start-up Advisory Board since 2020, and in 2021 became a policy advisor to Basavaraj Bommai, the chief minister of the BJP-led government in Karnataka and a key ally of Modi.
According to Accel, it was Prakash that brought the venture capital company into partnership with two other companies when they jointly invested $7 million in Traveazy in 2016, as the Indian company began to build its Holidayme subsidiary, and later in 2018, Umrahme, a company led by Muhammad bin Mahfouz.
According to Forbes, Umrahme is now “one of only three companies allowed by the Ministry of Haj and Umrah to sell Umrah products to international travel agents”.
Accel is a long-standing investor in Israeli startups, which reportedly invested over $350 million in the country between 2002 and 2016.
A number of Indian activists said the revelations were worrisome. New Delhi-based Nabiya Khan told MEE that Saudi Arabia’s decision to outsource the application process to a company with an investor related to the BJP was “outrageous and dangerous”.
“The personal data of those Muslims who applied through the portal could easily find themselves in the wrong hands,” said Khan.
“It is unfortunate that Muslim nations entrust such sensitive information and money to people whose money will eventually promote the persecution of Muslims in India,” Khan added.
Syed Abdahu Kashaf, a social and civil rights activist from Hyderabad, told MEE that the allegations meant that Saudi Arabia did indeed “invite people who are not allowed to participate in a very sacred space for Muslims”.
Neither the Saudi ministry of Haj and Umrah nor the Saudi consulate in New York responded to requests for comments, according to MEE.