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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
Congolese singer in French court
Papa Wemba
Papa Wemba has said he acted out of humanitarian concern
One of Africa's biggest music stars, the Congolese singer Papa Wemba, has appeared in court in France charged with aiding illegal immigration.

Papa Wemba is suspected of having received payment to procure visas for Congolese nationals who entered France claiming to be his road crew members.

A prosecutor has called for a five year jail sentence for the singer who also faces a fine of 750,000 euros ($1m).

Papa Wemba, 55, faces similar charges in Belgium, where he holds citizenship.

Name 'exploited'

French prosecutor Nadine Perrin called for jail sentences ranging from between 18 months and four years for eight others appearing on the same charges, including the singer's wife.

"Papa Wemba bears a heavy responsibility. From at least November 2002 he headed the organisation, this emerged from his telephone calls," the prosecutor said.

"Without the support of his personality nothing would have been possible."

He's not here to take the blame for a whole group of people
Yves Leberquier
Papa Wemba's lawyer

The singer, whose real name is Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, was arrested in Paris in February last year.

He appeared in court on Monday in Bobigny, a northern suburb of Paris, surrounded by Congolese fans. He admitted to helping a small number of people enter Europe, but only after his name was used for the scheme by others.

"Lots of people profited from my name to organise all this and I was tempted," he told the court, AFP news agency reported.

His lawyer, Yves Leberquier, told reporters outside the court that the singer was being made to carry too much blame.

"He's not here to take the blame for a whole group of people," Reuters news agency reported him as saying.

According to the French authorities, would-be immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo paid $4,500 in exchange for documents showing that they were members of Papa Wemba's band or road crew.

French officials finally became suspicious when some 200 people showed up at immigration in 2000, claiming to be Papa Wemba's musicians, yet none had any musical instruments with them.

French police say some turned out to be goat herders and others fishermen.

Mr Leberquier told French television on Monday that Papa Wemba had helped seven people out of humanitarian concern.

"It will be up to the judiciary to establish precisely the facts Papa Wemba can be held responsible for," he said.

Designer clothes

Papa Wemba spent four months in prison after he was charged, during which he said he underwent a religious conversion.

He has since been allowed to leave France to give concerts.

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 US.

He is also renowned as the moving spirit behind a cult movement known as "the Sapeurs" whose members, young men, spend huge amounts of money on designer clothes.

A verdict is expected in the next few days.

See the star accused of people-smuggling

Sky News Music Star Accused Of People Smuggling - 6 hrs ago
Herald Tribune Congolese Pop Star Wemba in French Court - 11 hrs ago
The Scotsman Singer Papa Wemba in court on people-smuggling charges - 15 hrs ago
Deutsche Welle Singer Papa Wemba admits part in people smuggling - 18 hrs ago
Reuters Singer Papa Wemba Admits Part in People Smuggling - 22 hrs ago
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