Tuesday, November 16, 2004

 

On smuggling people for fun and profit

At first glance, this man seems like he did something out of the goodness of his heart. And then it starts to sink in that he's a modern-day dandy interested solely in the bottom line. Sickening.

Africa music star awaits verdict

Papa Wemba has said he acted out of humanitarian concernThe verdict is expected in the Paris trial of Congolese singer Papa Wemba, one of Africa's biggest music stars.

Dubbed the king of "rumba rock," he was arrested in France last year on charges of aiding an illegal immigration racket in return for millions of dollars.

Prosecutors say nationals of the Democratic Republic of Congo entered France during Papa Wemba's concert tours as members of his entourage.

Almost 200 people accompanied him on tour - many of whom never went home.

Papa Wemba is suspected of having received payment to procure visas for Congolese nationals.

A prosecutor has called for a five-year jail sentence for the singer, who also faces a fine of 750,000 euros ($1m).

Papa Wemba, 55, faces similar charges in Belgium, where he holds citizenship.

French prosecutor Nadine Perrin called for jail sentences ranging from between 18 months and four years for eight others appearing on the same charges, including the singer's wife.

The singer, whose real name is Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, was arrested in Paris in February last year.

A court in Bobigny, a northern suburb of Paris, is due to deliver the verdict on Tuesday.

He admitted helping a small number of people enter Europe, but only after his name was used for the scheme by others.

Alleged scam

According to the French authorities, would-be immigrants from DR Congo paid $4,500 in exchange for documents showing that they were members of Papa Wemba's band or road crew.

French officials finally became suspicious when some 200 people showed up at immigration in 2000, claiming to be Papa Wemba's musicians, yet none had any musical instruments with them.

French police say some turned out to be goat herders and others fishermen.

Papa Wemba was already a hugely popular performer in the then Zaire before the fashion for African and world music brought him fame in Europe and the US.

He is also renowned as the moving spirit behind a cult movement known as "the Sapeurs" whose members, young men, spend huge amounts of money on designer clothes.

BBC NEWS World Europe Africa music star awaits verdict

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