Govt disowns Belgian e-passport company dogged by claims of corruption

August 20, 2021

Brenna Matendere

Home Affairs minister, Kazembe Kazembe, has disowned the Belgian company that he initially acknowledged had been contracted to produce e-passports, national identity cards and birth certificates.

The U-turn came amid revelations that the firm, Semlex, had a dodgy history and apparently got the contract without going to tender.

Semlex, as shown on its website, offers services to several African countries, among them Mozambique, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Niger, Uganda, DRC, Tanzania, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Togo and Senegal,

The services include supply of passports, voter cards, biometric driving licenses, visas and resident permits.

An e-passport contains an electronic chip which, when scanned, reflects the personal details of the bearer, among them the names, nationality and date of birth, in addition to biological details of the owner like fingerprints and the face.

Currently, Fidelity Printers, a government entity that has been struggling to clear the national backlog and has no capacity to generate e-passports, is producing the ordinary travel documents.

Kazembe recently told Zimlive, an online publication, that Semlex had been contracted to produce e-passports, birth certificates and national identity cards that would be used to create a national biometric data base.

This would be on a “Build Own Operate Transfer” basis, with Semlex producing the documents at no cost to the government and recouping its expenses from the revenue generated.

However, Grazers News asked Kazembe how Semlex got the job apparently without going to tender as required by the law and whether government was aware of the company’s alleged track record of corruption, and he flatly denied any links with the Belgian company.

“There is no contract with Semlex of Belgium. Government has no contract with the company,” he said.

He repeated the denial in a follow-up interview.

Open source searches have revealed that, in January 2018, police in Belgium searched the headquarters of the company and the home of its chief executive officer, Albert Karaziwan, after linking the firm to money laundering and corruption.

In Comoros Islands, located in East Africa, 170 passports supplied by Semlex were cancelled in 2018 after it was discovered that they had been improperly issued to foreigners—mainly Indians—by the company.

A report produced in September 2020 by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) after investigations, indicated that Semlex “used bribes, kickbacks and insider dealing to secure contracts around the world, inflating the cost of vital documents for ordinary citizens while lining the pockets of wealthy elites.”

“Our investigations not only revealed corruption and bribery in Madagascar and Kenya, but also showed how Semlex and its partner, Gunvor, used its black book of political contacts to enable corrupt oil deals worth billions in the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville as well as arming of the former rulers of Ivory Coast during its second civil war in 2011,” reads the report.

Ahead of the 2013 general elections, government hired Nikuv International, an Israeli intelligence company, to manage the production and issuing of national identity cards.

The main opposition, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), later accused Nikuv of helping the ruling Zanu PF manipulate the voters’ roll.

Nikuv has been accused of helping in the alleged rigging of elections in Zambia and several other countries.  

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