Updated: September 30, 2018

How did the Semlex Group end up with the contract to produce the proposed National ID Card in Dominica? Why the insistence on National and not Voter ID Cards? Is it because it is beneficial to the Officials who are pushing this idea? Did anyone get a 'cut'?  Did the Electoral Commission and the Labor Party Administration in Dominica do any research of this Company? If they did any research, they would have realized that this Semlex Group is entangled in legal issues in Africa at this time. Or, maybe they did and decided that this crooked company fits the bill. Never underestimate crooks!  You would not be alone if you asked 'Semlex' who?  At this point, many Dominicans are just coming to realize that this Company is not a "reputable international firm" as the Chairman of the Electoral Commission claims but a greedy, self-serving little-known Company that preys on poor African States selling them overpriced biometric passports.

The Semlex Story reads like a novel with some grand theft, political machination, 'kickbacks', embezzlement, conspiracy and a bit of Interpol intrigue mixed in for good measure. The Story is so entangled that only the highlights can be addressed here. Most of the information was gleaned from two very detailed exposes put out by the Reuters Group. In the end, Dominicans can decide if this Company is the right one to be handling something so critical as a National ID Card or any other important sensitive document.

The Semlex Group is headed by an obscure business man from Brussels named Albert Karaziwan.  He is native born Syrian with Brussels citizenship.  His business is basically a family business with no more than 12 employees but, this little known company has made millions selling passports to more than  six African Nations. Semlex also supplies other ID documents such as National ID Cards and Drivers licenses to many more countries in Africa. The Majority of its business is based in Africa and the small island state called Comoros which lies off the east coast-of Africa. Semlex's method is to befriend public officials, get around procurement acts and secure the contracts while  at the same time 'greasing' the palms of corrupt officials. So they get their cut. Sounds familiar? 
image source Reuters report

In June 2008 Semlex had already secured the contract to make passports and other documents for Comoros.  Later that year, the then President, Sambi, launched a program together with  the UAE and Kuwait to  give citizenship to their stateless people called  "Bidoon".  Those are the people who never received citizenship when the countries became independent. In return, Comoros would get investment money.  Over the years, thousands of passports were sold. However, in 2013, the UAE warned the government of Comoros that they were noticing that "non - Bidoons" were showing up with those passports. The Comoran government did nothing and continued to sell passports.  Nevertheless, when a new Administration under Mr. Azali Assoumani took over in 2016, they discovered that the passport program was an absolute disaster.  For a program that was supposed to have generated millions in income there seem to nothing to show for it; there was little to no improvement in Comoros.  Millions of dollars that should been in the Treasury or gone to development were missing; nothing to show.  So,  an investigation was launched and the following discrepancies were identified.

There were passports being sold outside of the usual channels. It seems that the  previous government of President Sambi  had a 'side hustle'. An office was opened in Dubai to sell passports. That office was outside of the usual channel of passport selling.  This office operated under a company called Lica which was being run by a friend of Mr. Karaziwan, owner of Semlex.  It is alleged that a nephew of President Sambi was allowed to go to the contractor's office in Belgium and print as a many passports as he desired. According to the public records, many passports were sold to Iranians, some of whom were alleged to have broken UN sanctions against Iran and others who were not entitled to those passports because they were strictly for the "Bidoons".  Some of those passports were being sold at 'black-market' prices.  Among those recipients were about 100 people with with known security risks. In December 2017, The new Foreign Minister of Comoros began working closely with Interpol and US authorities for help in tracking down those illegal passports. They had to scrap about 158 Diplomatic passports that were sold due to lack of valid documentation.  Even Mr. Karaziwan (Semlex) and some of his workers had diplomatic passports. 

In January 2018, Belgian police searched Semlex Offices in Belgium and the home of Mr. Karaziwan. They were looking for evidence of money laundering and corruption.  The Comoran  government also raided the Semlex office in Comoros in May this year because The company has not honored a request to show up for questioning. Finally, last Month Ex-president Sambi was formerly charged with corruption.

Here's another striking incident where this Semlex Company cannot be trusted. In June 2015 Semlex signed a contract with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The deal was to supply biometric passports to their people. This deal was illegal because it was supposed to have been put out for public tender but, according to a senior official, this was not done. The deal was all done through the Foreign Ministry with no transparency. A few weeks later, two companies named  Berea and Cedovane located in UAE, made payments totaling $700,000 to a private bank account held by Mr. Adriupiako an advisor to Mr. Kabila President of the DRC.  Public records show that both of those companies were connected to Mr. Karaziwan, CEO of Semlex. According to Reuters, the reasons they gave for this transfers were suspect. But wait it gets worse.

That passport deal did not come cheap. In this deal with the DRC government, Semlex produced passports was going to cost the Congolese people $185, up from $100. This passport is one of the priciest in Africa. The sad part is that a rival Belgian Company,  Zetes, had offered to do the same thing for $28.50. No way!!  President Kabila was not going to do what was best for his people. He had to get his share so he went with a Company, Semlex, which  would allow him to siphon money away from the Congolese people. For that matter only $65 will go to the Country the rest would be divided between Semlex and a Company set up in the Gulf called LRPS. According to Reuters, in late 2015 LRPS based in Dubai was run by Cedric Fevre a business associate of Mr. Karaziwan of Semlex. It is believed that LRPS shares are now owned by Ms Maklo Wangoi who DRC locals say is a close relative of Mr. Kabila.  So, there you have it.  Millions of dollars are drained away from a poor country aided by Semlex in a despicable Passport deal to enrich a rogue President.  Incidentally, Mr. Kabila refused to step aside when his term ended in December 2016.  President Kabila basically has remained illegally in power for 2 years.  After a lot of acrimony the Congolese people will finally be able to hold elections on December 23, 2018 and Mr. Kabila will not be contesting. However, he will still be benefiting from Semlex passport sales because a clause in contract prevents cancellation even when a new government comes into power.

This analysis of Semlex and its intrigue is just a tip of the iceberg. There were many instances of unsavory dealings by Semlex in the African business arena.  Nonetheless, we have chosen to limit this analysis to instances of their egregious behavior in biometric and other ID-related matters. The Dominican people must now find out from the Dominica Electoral Commission whether any due diligence was done of this company?  How is it that  in October of 2017, the Commission put out this  video  already extolling the virtues of Semlex. This seems highly inappropriate behavior by the Electoral Commission particularly because legislation has not been enacted for such National ID cards.  Did the Electoral Commission sign a contract before the law was passed? How much are Dominicans paying for this apparent faux pas? Mr. Burton and Mr. Elias Dupuis, the newly minted Press/Public Education Officer  must be made to answer those questions. 

The fact is, Semlex is under suspicion both in Brussels and some countries in Africa, many of whom are cancelling contracts obtained by Semlex without legal tender. Who knows if  Semlex could be implicated in selling passports to Iran sanction breakers? No one knows what else is going to surface? Seeing that Interpol is involved, are Dominicans just waiting for another shoe to drop? They deserve answers and explanations. The country should drop Semlex instead.  Dominica does not need to be slammed with another international scandal.

Source: Reuters
 Special Report 1 
 Special Report 2