Swindled kids’ choir wins contest

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Swindled kids’ choir wins contest

The father of a member of a children’s choir, Angelus Domini, run by the Catholic Diocese of Cheongju, North Chungcheong, watched his daughter’s long-awaited dreams and hard work almost wash away on April 4 after the head of a travel agency swindled the choir out of more than 200 million won ($167,886) in airfare, accommodation and transportation fees.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, the father, who refused to be identified, recalled the day he was waiting with his daughter to board a flight to Spain when another parent came to him and said, “We’re in big trouble. I just found out from the airline that the travel agency didn’t pay for the flights.”

His daughter has been singing in the choir for four years. After its establishment in 1998, the choir won first place at a contest in the Philippines in 2014, and in 2015, it won a silver medal in the teenage section of an international choir contest in Busan.

The choir members had been practicing for the competition in Spain for the past five months. His daughter was thrilled by the prospect and more determined than anyone to win, recalled the father. The 50-member team and their parents were supposed to fly to Spain that day and attend the contest five days later. Instead, they found themselves stranded at Incheon International Airport.

They soon found out none of the 245 million won ($205,644), paid to a man surnamed Choi, the head of the travel agency, ever reached Spain. He said he and the other parents were, at first, reluctant to tell the children what they had discovered because of the disappointment they knew it would bring to them. They all spent that night in a hotel near the airport.

The next morning, on April 5, travel agent Choi came to see the choir after receiving numerous calls from parents.

“I used all of the money,” he told them. “I have nothing else to say.”

The father said Choi had given them a presentation about the trip last December, suggesting a 12-day trip to Spain. Convinced, each of the parents paid him 3.5 million won.

In March, one of the parents had checked with the airline and notified the rest of the choir that the money for the tickets had not been sent to the airline. The choir’s management team merely told parents it was unlikely that the travel agency would commit fraud. When the parents told the children they wouldn’t be able to compete, they all broke into tears.

Thanks to another parent, however, who sent the team about 42 million won, the children and the parents were able to catch a flight to Barcelona later that day. The trip, however, was far from what was expected. The children had to sleep in an accommodation located above a noisy bar. By the time the arrived at the Municipal Theater in Torrevieja, after a seven-hour bus ride, they were completely washed-out.

Despite this, the children gave their best efforts and won first place against nine teams from different countries. The father said that after returning, the parents tried reaching the travel agency’s Choi, but failed. The response coming from the choir’s organizing committee was even more stunning. “Let’s just forget about it,” said one official there, the father recalled.

The parents filed charges against Choi on April 20 with the Dongdaemun Police Precinct in Seoul.

BY CHOI JONG-GWON, SHIN SOO-YEON [shin.sooyeon@joongang.co.kr]

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