Comoros uncovers massive passport fraud

Aboubacar Mchangama in Moroni

Two former Comoros presidents are suspected of embezzling millions of dollars from a scheme that sold passports to foreigners to finance development in the Indian Ocean island nation.

A parliamentary report compiled in December accuses Ahmed Abdallah Sambi and Ikililou Dhoinine of involvement in systematic fraud and calls for criminal action against the pair.

“The courts must take up cases of embezzlement of public funds and conspiracy in which presidents and their associates are implicated,” the report said.

The scandal dates back to 2008 when Comoros launched a programme, in co-operation with the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, to give citizenship to stateless individuals from the Gulf known as bidoons. In return, Comoros, an archipelago between Mozambique and Madagascar and one of the world’s poorest countries, was expected to receive significant investment from the oil-rich nations.

The initial deal agreed that 4 000 bidoon families would become naturalised Comorians in return for $200-million to be used for major infrastructure projects.

Over the following years, almost 48 000 passports were issued under the programme, according to data collected by the parliamentary inquiry but just a handful were issued to bidoons. More than 6 000 passports were sold “outside the legal channels”, the report said.

Comoros-issued passports entitle holders to visa-free travel to several major economies including Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong. The passports were extensively traded on the black market, profiting “parallel mafia networks, which sold them under the cover of economic citizenship”, the report said.

Sambi’s nephew “was able to go and print as many passports as he wanted” at a contractor’s facility in Belgium.

Most of the money paid for the passports, between €25 000 and €200 000, was stolen, according to the parliamentary probe.

“The programme generated significant fiscal resources. Unfortunately, a good chunk of the proceeds never arrived in state coffers,” said the report. “The state has ended up a laughing stock.”

The state is thought to have lost out on as much as $971-million, the report said, roughly the equivalent of 80% of the country’s gross domestic product.

Sambi received a “gratuity” of $105-million for signing off on the deal and Kiwan pocketed $29-million for “encouraging” it, according to lawmakers.

The investment-for-passports scheme, suspended by current President Azali Assoumani after his 2016 election victory, had been criticised from its inception.

Sambi and Dhoinine vehemently denied the accusations when they gave evidence to the parliamentary inquiry.

“We had financial difficulties and we were told that the programme could enable us to carry out projects,” Dhoinine told the commission. “But it wasn’t clear, no one knew, not myself in any case, what was happening.”

“President Sambi did not see anything of this scandal,” said one of his former ministers, Ahmed el-Barwane. “It’s a commission intended to get at someone or to silence someone,” he said, adding that Sambi remained a contender for presidential polls due in 2020.

Some fear the revelations will not be followed with concrete action.

“In my opinion it will be buried,” said an adviser to Assoumani, who spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity.

The report was submitted to the president last week, the federal Parliament speaker, Abdou Ousseni, said.

“Our role was to understand what had happened. What follows is down to the executive and the judiciary,” he wrote in the government-run Al-Watan newspaper. — AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

The spate of arrests for corruption continues apace in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

Ailing Far East Rand hospital purchases ‘vanity’ furniture

Dr Zacharia Mathaba, who purchased the furniture, is a suspected overtime fraudster and was appointed as Gauteng hospital chief executive despite facing serious disciplinary charges

Why crooks are shivering in their boots

Ace Magashule’s anxiety has to do with the array of arrests of high-profile people facing fraud and corruption charges

Union calls on top cop to act ‘swiftly’ against his deputy in R191m ‘blue-lights’ fraud case

Deputy police commissioner Bonanga Mgwenya allegedly received gifts, including payments towards her BMW X5, from the firm that won a lucrative police contract

Vincent Smith the first to head to court after blitz of Hawks arrests

Former ANC MP Vincent Smith has appeared in the specialised commercial crimes court on charges of corruption and fraud

US ‘brokered’ agreements on Israel: Wind of change or toxic blast of extortion?

The United States is negotiating with African countries that will see them exchange Palestinian people’s rights for improved economic and trade conditions

Subscribers only

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

More top stories

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

The spate of arrests for corruption continues apace in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

Catholic NGO boss accused of racism and abuse in Sudan

The aid worker allegedly called his security guard a ‘slave’

Agrizzi too ill to be treated at Bara?

The alleged crook’s “health emergency” — if that is what it is — shows up the flaws, either in our health system or in our leadership as a whole

SANDF hid R200m expenditure on ‘Covid’ drug it can’t use

Military health officials are puzzled by the defence department importing a drug that has not been approved for treating coronavirus symptoms from Cuba

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday