Learning English - Words in the News
25 October, 2004 - Published 11:10 GMT
Wemba charged for people smuggling
One of the biggest stars of African music, the Congolese singer Papa Wemba appears in court in France today on a charge of aiding illegal immigration. The fifty-five year old is suspected of being paid to obtain visas for Congolese nationals who entered France during his concert tours, claiming to be members of his road crew. This report from Hugh Schofield:
To the consternation of his millions of fans in Africa and around the world, Papa Wemba was arrested in Paris in February of last year. It quickly became clear that he was suspected of running a major people-smuggling scam.
The French authorities claim that would-be immigrants from his home in the Democratic Republic of Congo would pay him some four-and-a-half-thousand dollars in return for which he would tell the French embassy in Kinshasa that they were members of his band or road crew and bring them to Paris on his next tour.
French officials say that they were alerted in the year 2000 when a suspiciously large number of people, some two hundred, formed his musical entourage. Many of them never went back.
Papa Wemba was granted conditional release after four months in prison, during which he said he underwent a religious conversion, and he has since been allowed to leave France to give concerts. He is expected to be in court though in person in the Paris suburb of Bobigny.
A flamboyant figure who has been dubbed the king of rumba rock, 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 United States.
Hugh Schofield, BBC, Paris
underwent a religious conversion