A Belgian amateur radio presenter is being investigated by police on suspicion of defrauding more than 1,000 hotels across several European countries over a 10-year period, Belgian and Swiss media reported on Monday.
Le Matin Dimanche newspaper reported that the 52-year-old man approached hotels in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Italy offering a promotional interview on his internet radio station, RTR Kulturradio Europa, in exchange for a gift voucher that would be given away as a prize to a listener.
According to the paper, about 6,000 vouchers offering free nights in a hotel were instead sold on auction website eBay, generating an estimated 400,000 euros (about 448,000 U.S. dollars).
Le Matin reported that the alleged fraud was uncovered on Aug. 27 by Louis Papadopoulos, owner of the four-star Maya Boutique Hotel in the Swiss resort of Nax Mont-Noble.
Belgian news group Sudpresse quoted Papadopoulos as saying: "I was surprised to see a young customer arrive at the hotel with a voucher that I had offered to the radio presenter. He seemed too young to listen to the program, and I mentioned this to him."
"He said he had never heard of the radio station and that he had bought the gift voucher on eBay. That wasn't what I agreed with the radio presenter, who had explained that the vouchers would be given away as a competition prize to his listeners."
Le Matin reported that Papadopoulos alerted a local hoteliers' association, which has filed a formal police complaint. The Swiss hotel federation, Hotellerie Suisse, is also considering legal action, according to the paper.
Sudpresse identified the presenter as Rainer K., from a village near Eupen, in the German-speaking community to the east of Belgium. It reported that the alleged fraud began in May 2005 and that "thousands of European hotels" were targeted.
The website for RTR Kulturradio Europa, which local media describe as a one-man project with an audience close to zero, was inaccessible on Aug. 31 after the story emerged in the press. A cached version of the home page available online showed several links to pages about hotels.