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Police arrest Peya Travel owners

29 December 2017

By The SUN Hong Kong

Hong Kong police have arrested husband and wife Peter Brian and Rhea Donna Bayona-Boyce, owners of Peya Travel, which was at the center of an airline booking mess over the Christmas holidays.

Police say 645 people, mostly overseas Filipino workers, were affected by the apparent booking scam.  All appear not to have been issued airline tickets, despite Peya’s assurance that they had confirmed flights after collecting the full fare from each of them.

Thirty-eight year old Rhea Donna, or Yanyan to many in the community, was the first to be arrested.  She was picked up from the couple’s flat in Wanchai at noon on Christmas day, and then taken wearing a face mask and her head covered with a pink wrap, to Peya’s office in World Wide Plaza where the police collected documents.

Yanyan, who was the travel agency’s managing director, was detained for two days at the Central Police Station before being allowed to post bail. She was told to report back to the police in early January.

Peter, 59, a retired securities consultant, was taken in shortly after Yanyan’s temporary release. He was released on police bail after being questioned for a full day. He, too, was ordered to report back to the police early next month.

The couple was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to defraud Peya’s customers out of some $2 million in paid plane fares. The travelers had paid an average of $3,000 each for the Philippines-bound flights that they were unable to take.

Police said that since mid-December, they had received complaints from several “foreign women” whose air tickets from PEYA were not honored by airlines.

A 67-year-old local man also reportedly went to the police on Dec. 21 to complain that his company, an air ticket wholesaler, had not been paid for about $3 million worth of tickets it had issued Peya since May this year.

On Dec 28, Benny Hui, a travel agency owner and also a ticket wholesaler, told The SUN he stopped giving credit to Peya at the end of August after a check issued by Yanyan had bounced.

The booking mess initially affected about 100 workers who were scheduled to depart Hong Kong International Airport on Dec 17, but Yanyan told The SUN she managed to book them on other flights at premium fare.

But the apparent scam unraveled when hundreds more Peya customers were unable to board their flights the next day because they were not issued tickets. Airline staff told the irate travelers that Peya had failed to pay for their tickets.

On Monday morning, Dec 18, Peya staff walked out on their jobs after being swamped with complaints by angry customers.

Yanyan and her sales and marketing manager Arnold Grospe were left to handle the growing number of complainants.

Yanyan eventually slipped out and Grospe, for the next two days, faced the hundreds of rowdy customers who demanded to be rebooked on other flights or be refunded their payments.

Grospe was invited to the Central Police station for questioning at the close of business hours on Dec 20, but was released after five hours without any charge being laid against him.

As the unrest mounted, the Consulate led by acting head of post Roderico Atienza began taking down the statements and contact details of the affected Peya customers. A total of 167 Filipinos responded to the call  to lodge complaints, which the Consulate then endorsed to the police for further action.

Deputy Consul General Atienza also wrote a letter to Hong Kong’s Commissioner of Police Lo Wai-chung early on Dec 21 calling for an investigation.

Three days later, Commissioner Lo reportedly visited DCG Atienza amid a growing call for police action on the case.  Yanyan was arrested the next day.

Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific Airlines responded to the crisis by announcing that it was sending bigger aircraft to Hong Kong to ferry some of the stranded travelers on its last flights on Dec. 22 and 23.

The airline also said it was charging a”distress fare”, (which one passenger said was only $1,300 for a return  ticket) for the extra seats as a humanitarian gesture.

The next day, Dec. 21, Philippine Airlines also said in a statement that it was sending bigger aircraft to fly out more OFW passengers on the two crucial dates.

About 200 distressed Peya customers reportedly snapped up the extra seats offered by both airlines at heavily discounted fares for the two busiest days of the flying season.

Cebu Pacific then stepped up to the plate by offering 50 free tickets to the affected travelers on a first come, first served basis. However, the slots that were opened were only for the evening flights of Dec. 25, 30 and Jan. 8.

The Philippine government, through Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, upped the ante by offering to pay for the fare of all OFWs who were unable to fly home for the holidays because of the Peya fiasco, subject to the availability of seats.

After negotiating with PAL, the flag carrier, about 50 extra seats that were paid for by the government were offered to the affected passengers.

At the close of business hours on Dec.24, Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre said a total of 101 OFWs had managed to avail of the free tickets on the Cebu Pacific and PAL flights.

The processing of applications for the free seats was handled by staff at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office who put in extra hours to do the job.

On Dec. 27, the processing resumed for OFW applicants who plan to go home before the New Year.

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