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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 23:55 GMT
France investigates Papa Wemba
Papa Wemba
Wemba's unique music brought him a global following
Congolese music star Papa Wemba has been placed under formal investigation in France for alleged involvement in smuggling people to Europe, judicial officials say.

Wemba, 53 and a Belgian citizen, are suspected of involvement in a network which sold fake European visas to Congolese immigrants.

The people were said to have been passed off as musicians so they could enter France and Belgium.

Papa Wemba, a well known fixture on the African music scene since the 1970s, spent two days in police custody this week.

Investigation

French radio said that Papa Wemba's arrest - on Monday evening in a Parisian suburb - followed an investigation by French border police.

This began in December 2002 when 200 Congolese arrived at Roissy airport in Paris, saying they were musicians for a concert Mr Wemba was scheduled to play.

The police let them through immigration control, but they have since vanished, France Inter radio reported.

And 13 February this year, Belgian police arrested 15 people claiming to be musicians travelling with Papa Wemba, officially for a concert.

On questioning, they admitted to police they had paid $3,500 each for their passage, Reuters news agency reported.

Global fan base

The singer, whose real name is Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, was inspired to perform by his mother, a professional mourner who sang at funerals.

After building a following in Africa and forming his present outfit Viva La Musica, Wemba left the continent in the early 1980s for France.

He rapidly built a global fan base with his unique music, called "rumba rock" after its blending of electric guitars and African influences.

He has played with notable international musicians such as singer Peter Gabriel, touring with him in the 1990s and appearing on his Secret World Live album.



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Paul Webster of The Observer newspaper
"According to French police there are literally hundreds of people involved"



SEE ALSO:
A world on the move
28 Dec 01 |  Review of 2001


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