ROME/SINGAPORE - Executive Shanice Tan had saved close to $3,000 over two
years for a 10-day overland tour from Milan to Rome.
But for her and 25 others, the trip turned out to be something they'd rather
Not only were two tour members conned, someone stole their tour bus.
The trouble began on the eight day.
After shopping around the Piazza di Spagna in Rome, the group went for
dinner at a restaurant called Papa Rex.
Most of them had bought luxury items, including Miss Tan, who bought three
pairs of shoes which cost close to 2,400 euros (S$4,000).
The group left their purchases in the coach, which was parked some distance
from the restaurant. Midway through the meal, salesman Peter Lim and a fellow
traveller, who wanted to be known only as Mr Goh, left the restaurant for a
While smoking on the pavement, two men drove up in an unmarked car, claiming
to be the police. Without getting out of the car, they flashed IDs and asked
the two Singaporeans to show them their valuables, as part of a routine
Mr Lim said: "One of them looked at my wallet and told me I shouldn't be
carrying around so much money because the area isn't safe, before returning it
He said they also removed Mr Goh's gold chain and put it in his waist pouch,
claiming it was for his safety.
The two men then drove off.
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Said Mr Goh: "I was furious. It wasn't a lot of money, but to get cheated on
a holiday, it isn't a good feeling. Just about then, another two groupmates
came out and we told them what had happened and they went to get the tour
Tour leader Cyril Sheng then left the restaurant to accompany the two men to
a nearby police station.
He said: "As we were walking to the station, I saw the bus driver running
towards us. That's when he told us our bus had been stolen."
Mr Sheng said the driver had joined the group for a quick dinner before
going back to the bus. By the time he got back, the bus was gone.
The four men then returned to the restaurant to break the bad news. There
was a stunned silence as the group took in the news.
The coach, along with personal belongings and a day's worth of shopping, was
stolen within 15 minutes of the driver locking it. The driver had stepped away
to have dinner at the same restaurant, Papa Rex. According to a Lianhe Wanbao
report, it is no more than 400m from St Peter's Square in the Vatican City.
Said a civil servant who wanted to be known only as Mr Manoharan: "I didn't
expect this in all my years of travelling. This is the first time this has
happened to me. Everyone in the tour group agreed it was a surprise."
The group waited in the restaurant while Mr Sheng went to the police station
to report the con. Group member William Chng said: "While waiting, one of the
group members realised he had left his passport on the bus. That's when we
By then, Mr Sheng had returned from the police station and made calls to
help replace the man's travel documents.
Then came another bombshell: He would have to either travel to Geneva,
Switzerland, to collect the documents from the Singapore Consulate, or wait
three days for it to be sent over. He chose to collect it in Switzerland.
A replacement coach took the group back to their hotel.
By then, Mr Sheng had pieced together what had happened from the driver and
went to make a police report about the missing bus.
The group waited for an hour in the hotel lobby.
But their troubles didn't end there.
The bus was found within three hours by the Italian police - but the tourists'
valuables were gone.
Mr James Retnam said that there was a brief glimmer of hope when some of the
things were returned at breakfast. He said the police had found the bus
abandoned at a nearby petrol station.
"They laid it all out in front of us, all the cheap stuff. All the (luxury
items) were gone."