‘King of Rhumba Rock’ faces five years' jailfor people trafficking

25th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 26 (AFP) - French prosecutors called for a five-year jail term for Papa Wemba, one of Africa's most popular musicians, for running an alleged immigration scam in which some 150 Congolese entered Europe on visas describing them as his band members.

PARIS, Oct 26 (AFP) - French prosecutors called for a five-year jail term for Papa Wemba, one of Africa's most popular musicians, for running an alleged immigration scam in which some 150 Congolese entered Europe on visas describing them as his band members.

The trial against the 55-year-old musician - a Belgian citizen born Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo - started Monday and was expected to continue Thursday in a courtroom in the Paris suburb of Bobigny.

Before a room packed with many of his fans, Wemba admitted to having taken money from seven immigrants to organise musicians' visas, but he said he had nothing to do with the other cases.

"There are several people who took advantage of my name to organise all that," he said, though he added that he was "tempted" by the lucrative opportunity.

The court heard that the DRC nationals each paid USD 3,500 to 5,000 (EUR 2,700 to 4,000) to obtain the fraudulent musician visas.

French police grew suspicious in December 2001 when 90 DRC citizens got off a plane in Paris and claimed to be band members for a concert headed by Papa Wemba. None of them had instruments nor stage clothing, however.

Wemba and his entourage were put under surveillance, including telephone taps, and in February 2003 the singer was arrested in his home near Paris and detained for nearly four months on suspicion of heading an illegal immigration ring that obtained visas and issued fraudulent contracts.

The judge in his trial, Francoise Bouthier-Vergez, noted Monday that "none of these bogus musicians were able to tell police what instrument they played."

The state prosecutor, Nadine Perrin, said "Papa Wemba's responsibility is serious" and called for the five-year prison term.

The maximum sentence under the charges is 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of EUR 750,000 euros (USD 1 million).

Perrin recommended sentences ranging from 18 months to four years for eight other people in court alongside Wemba, including his wife.

The African singer, dubbed the King of Rhumba Rock, faces similar illegal immigration charges in Belgium.

Wemba's music - a style inspired by Cuban rhythms and played with electronic instruments - gained him a worldwide following from the 1970s and has taken off across sub-Saharan Africa and among African immigrants everywhere.

He has performed in concerts from New York to Tokyo, and recorded together with British singer Peter Gabriel.

Wemba moved to France in 1986, but kept up ties with the DRC by donating money to help Kinshasa street children and encourage new musical talent there.

© AFP

Subject: French News

 

 

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