April 18, 2017 / 7:00 AM / 2 years ago

Congo opposition calls for investigation into expensive passports

DAKAR (Reuters) - Top opposition leaders in Democratic Republic of Congo called on the new prime minister on Monday to investigate revelations by Reuters last week that most of the money paid by Congolese citizens for new passports goes overseas.

An immigration official displays a Congolese biometric passport in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

    Documents reviewed by Reuters of a 2015 deal between Congo’s government and a Belgian company called Semlex to produce biometric passports show that most of the $185 price for a new passport goes to Semlex and a small company called LRPS in the United Arab Emirates.

    According to a person with direct knowledge of the passport deal, the UAE-registered company - which receives $60 for every passport issued - is owned by Makie Makolo Wangoi, believed to be a close relative of Congo President Joseph Kabila.

    The Congolese presidency, Wangoi and Semlex did not respond to requests for comment for last week’s story.

    Speaking to reporters in the capital, Kinshasa, Felix Tshisekedi said the main opposition bloc that he leads would only speak to incoming Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala once he takes action over the passport affair.

    “He should start by resolving the problem of the scandal taking place in the republic today - the scandal of the passports,” Tshisekedi said. “Tshibala should show his independence by resolving this problem, and then we will speak.”

Claudel Andre Lubaya, an opposition member of parliament and former provincial governor, also called on the attorney general to investigate the matter.

The youth activist group Lucha reacted to the story on its Twitter feed by saying that Congo “is hostage to a band of stealers and criminals.”

    A government spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday.

    Corruption is endemic in the vast central African state. Kabila’s counsellor on graft and money laundering said in 2015 that the country loses up to $15 billion a year to fraud, roughly three times the annual budget.

    Kabila also faces calls from the opposition to step down this year after he refused to quit power at the end of his constitutional mandate in December, citing delays organizing an election to replace him.

Reporting By Aaron Ross, editing by Edward McAllister, Larry King

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