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A shady company behind passports with a questionable deal

LITHUANIAN firm Garsu Pasaulis which was controversially given a contract to create electronic passports through the Zimbabwean government in a tangled deal has been a questionable company previously involved in allegations of bribery corruption cases in Asia and many African countries.

It is also believed that CBZ Bank, which will be collecting passport fees, will reap enormous advantages in yet another obscure connected agreement with a third party.

The passport scam has quickly caused a stir that has stifled the transparency and accountability of public matters.

The company’s owner is a Belgian citizen and has been examined in Belgium and the Comoros Islands for corruption.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Tuesday launched the nation’s first e-passport in the registry offices in the Chiwashira Building in Harare.

The announcement immediately sparked suspicions since the late President Robert Mugabe also launched a similar project for an e-passport in April 2016.

Nikuv International, which rigged the 2013 general elections in Zimbabwe, is the company that created the passports with electronic technology that a majority of Zimbabweans are currently holding.

To justify the arrangement, Mnangagwa said the e-passport could improve security by stopping identity fraud and theft.

The e-passports that are in use today include these features. Mnangagwa said this move is in keeping with the government’s goal to modernize the economy by using the latest technologies for information communication systems.

The new agreement states that the standard passport will cost $100, and an application fee of $20 that CBZ Bank processes will also be required, which will bring the total cost for acquiring this travel permit to 120 dollars.

The government granted the holders of current passports two years to get e-passports, following the announcement that the passports of current holders would cease being valid after December 31, 2023. This is why most Zimbabweans view that as a rent-seeking ploy designed to defraud the public.

It has been revealed that the company that was given the contract was involved in controversy in Kyrgyzstan, which is a landlocked nation located in Central Asia bordering Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in which the company was accused of corruption including corruption, including bribery.

Its owners and the parent company are involved in controversy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea Bissau, and Comoros.

In Kyrgyzstan, the company was awarded a 940 million soms (US$13.4 million) offer for the production of electronic passports. However, the state’s security service, GKNB, implicated government officials in the contract to accept bribes form of payment for travel abroad.

Some employees of the State Registry Service, the agency which issues passports to its citizens and issues this tender to citizens, were arrested in the process.

Similar to Zimbabwe, The cost of passports skyrocketed after the company was able to take overproduction. They’ve gone up from US$53 for a normal passport to US$100. However, travelers will be charged US$120 due to the US$20 application cost.

An investigation conducted by Kyrgyzstan website Kloop as well as The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) that looked into the tender process and analyzed a variety of documents revealed that Garsu Pasaulis “appears to be treated very leniently by the commission responsible for conducting an evaluation, which was comprised mostly from State Registry Service officials.”

“Not just did the commission fail to consider Garsu’s inability to fulfill certain standards while disqualifying its principal competitor for similar reasons, but it also did not examine the bid’s performance concerning a crucial metric which it could have come further behind,” the report reads in the second section.

“The documents also show Garsu Pasaulis’s proposal could result in higher costs for passports for citizens. Reporters also investigated the owner of Garsu Pasaulis and discovered a Belgian firm and a Belgian citizen responsible for the organization. Both are being investigated in Belgium and the Comoros Islands for corruption involving passport transactions in the Congo and the illegal selling of identity documents.”

The Director of the company, Ana Janauskiene, dedid not pay any money to Kyrgyzstani officials when she was in charge. However, she acknowledged that the company had paid for certain travel expenses and speculated that it might be related to business.

Five foreign companies applied for the

passport booklets are now available, and the tender was announced in October 2018.

“The tender commission disqualified three due to not meeting bid requirements. The remaining two of the two – Garsu Pasaulis and a French rival, IDEMIAFrance – the Lithuanian company was awarded the contract because it offered a lower price,” the report reads.

“But an analysis conducted by reporters indicates that the same requirements were not applied to the bidders. Particularly, Garsu Pasaulis appears to have met requirements that other bidders couldn’t pass because they didn’t meet.

“One important criterion used to assess a company’s performance dealing with large passport orders was to require bidders to have completed at minimum two projects and produced at minimum 2 million booklets in the last five years. To prove their claims, they were required to submit documents proving contracts as well as proofs of delivery with precise figures, as well as references letters.”

Even though Garsu Pasaulis had all the required documents, its total number of passports handed out during the five years was less than two million.

The report states that to go over the minimum requirements, The company also provided documents detailing the deliveries made over an additional 8-month period which appears to have been unnoticed by the commission that commissioned the tender.

German business Muhlbauer and IDEMIAFrance filed a complaint in a different review commission- sion regarding the tender process after Garsu Pasaulis was awarded the tender, but none of the appeals was successful.

“In its complaints, IDEMIAFrance had attempted to alert the review commission to the legal issues Garsu Pasaulis had.

We were experiencing in Belgium. While it did submit hyperlinks to news articles on the Belgian investigation, however, the commission denied the complaint,” the report states.

The report also states that since 2014, the business has been controlled through Albert Karaziwan, a Belgian citizen, and Semlex Europe. This company is owned by him and operated at least partially by his family and him.

Reuters stated that the Semlex headquarters was searched in January of 2018 following the news organization published two articles that examined Semlex’s operations in Africa that involved a controversial fraudtract located that was conducted in Congo.

“About one-third of the proceeds of this Congo contract is said to have been transferred to an offshore business owned by a close family member who was a close relative of Joseph Kabila, the country’s president at the time. An investigation by a parliamentary committee in Comoros looked into the role played by Semlex in selling Comoros identity documents illegally to foreigners believed to be security threats by various nations,” the report reads.

Reuters also reported that the company had received other contracts without tenders, sometimes due to political connections.

“In the year 2006, for instance, Semlex reportedly won a passport visa, ID card, and a foreign residency card contract in Guinea Bissau following paying the defense minister of the country,” the article says.

Janauskiene Garsu, Director of Pasaulis, dismissed the accusations against Semlex, the company that is its parent. “Those were completely unfounded articles that were commissioned through competitors,” the Director said.

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