France probes Thales subsidiary over past ID deals in Africa
A subsidiary of Thales – Thales Digital Identity and Security (Thales DIS) — known as Gemalto before the acquisition in 2019, is under heat from judicial authorities in France over accusations that the company got involved in unorthodox practices to secure juicy ID document contracts in six African countries.
According to French investigative publication Mediapart, which first reported the story, Gemalto paid bribes or used other unfair channels like intermediaries or lobbyists to secure at least 10 contracts between 2015 and 2019 to produce different ID documents for Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Niger, Senegal and Uganda.
Thales says it is cooperating fully with the investigations into “contracts won by Gemalto before its acquisition by Thales in 2019.”
Per Mediapart, the investigations were set off in 2021 following a report by Tracfin, an intelligence service under the French Ministry of the Economy and Finance.
The report, which was sent to the National Financial Prosecutors’s Office, raised suspicion over some of Gemalto’s foreign contracts.
Acting on the report, officials sent a judicial document requisition to Thales last October, and the company turned over documents from the office of Thales DIS to investigative gendarme officers.
After the conclusion of preliminary investigations which lasted for many months, a full judicial probe was eventually opened in June 2022 and investigators are seeking to establish whether Gemalto was involved in corruption, aggravated money laundering and criminal association, notes Mediapart.
The publication says it has obtained a document which shows the probe is related to government contracts for the production of ID documents such as national ID cards, passports, voter ID cards and vehicle license plates.
These include a contract for national ID cards in Gabon in 2015, three contracts including one for ID cards won in Cameroon between 2015 and 2018, and other contracts in Senegal, Uganda, DR Congo and Niger awarded in 2017.
Elaborating on the case of DR Congo, Mediapart says the investigation partly has to do with information revealed by some partner media outlets in November 2021, relating to a $46 million biometric voter registration contract obtained by Gemalto in 2016. It is reported that the company engaged in serious lobbying through an intermediary to be able to get the contract. Once it won the contract, the company allegedly replaced a local subcontractor with a French one.
About Senegal, the probe is said to be looking to unravel how much Gemalto paid to a Senegalese intermediary to get a €13.8 million (US$14.8 million) driver’s license and license plate contracts in the West African country in 2017, notes Mediapart.
Another part of the investigation is digging into how Gemalto used an intermediary Israeli group, based in Hong Kong, to negotiate two contracts in Cameroon, and one other in Senegal.
Thales says cooperating with investigations
Contacted by Mediapart, Thales emphasized that the probe has to do only with contracts the subsidiary won before it was snapped up in 2019.
Notwithstanding, the company says it is fully cooperating with the investigators in the process of establishing the truth of the matter.
In a statement to AFP, cited by Le Figaro, Thales adds that all its contractual transactions are in conformity with national and international regulations and that it maintains its zero tolerance policy against corruption and influence peddling.
This post was updated at 2:46pm Eastern on February 16, 2023 to clarify that the documents obtained by officials were turned over on request, not found during a judicial search.