Congolese citizens and international campaign groups have filed a civil action in Belgium against passport manufacturer Semlex, which is being investigated by prosecutors for possible money laundering and corruption, the petitioners said on Wednesday.
“We want the Belgian judiciary to lift the veil on this case and punish any individual or company who may be found guilty of corruption,” Fred Bauma, a Congolese pro-democracy activist and one of the petitioners, said in a statement.
Luc Stalars, a lawyer for Semlex, whose headquarters are in Belgium, said in an email that he was not aware of the civil action.
He referred Reuters to a company statement from 2017 that denied allegations of impropriety, calling them part of a “defamatory smear campaign”.
The company statement said Semlex’s “economic success, in particular on the African continent, has apparently given rise to increasing jealousy or even strategic frustration.”
The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the action.
In a 2017 special report http://www.reuters.com/article/us-africa-passports-karaziwan-specialrep/special-report-how-to-make-millions-selling-passports-to-africa-idUSKBN1EG0YY, Reuters detailed how Semlex, which supplies passports to various African countries, won a contract to produce biometric passports in Democratic Republic of Congo.
The deal greatly increased the price citizens have to pay for passports, and documents showed a Gulf company owned by a relative of Congo’s then-president received almost a third of the revenues.