By Ali Amir Ahmed
MORONI (Reuters) - The Comoros government has asked Interpol and the U.S. authorities for information related to foreigners, including two people accused of breaking sanctions on Iran, who have bought the country's passports to facilitate their activities, the foreign minister told Reuters.
Souef Mohamed El Amine also said Comoros would cancel 158 diplomatic passports that had been bought and scrap any nominations of honorary consulships that could not be justified in a review now under way by authorities.
"We are working closely with Interpol. Americans have come here, and we have asked them to provide any information they have that they can share to help us identify these people,” El Amine said late on Tuesday.
The statement is the first official reaction in Comoros to a Reuters article about the activities of a Belgian firm called Semlex, which supplies ID documents for countries across Africa, including the tiny Indian Ocean state.
The Reuters story highlighted how some Semlex staff and associates had acquired Comoros diplomatic passports and positions in various cities around the world.
It also identified two people accused by U.S. authorities of breaking sanctions against Iran who had bought Comoros citizenship.
Reuters was unable to establish how either obtained Comoros citizenship or whether either acquired it through Semlex.
If Semlex was confirmed to have played a role in the case involving the Iranians, Comoros would end its agreement with Semlex, El Amine said.
A lawyer for Semlex declined to comment, saying his client refuted all allegations against Semlex contained in two special reports published by Reuters in April and December this year.
The lawyer previously said an unidentified third party was manipulating Reuters with the aim of damaging Semlex and Albert Karaziwan, its chief executive officer.
The minister was referring to two Iranians – one accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran, the other accused of supplying equipment to Iranian forces in Syria – who had acquired Comoros citizenship in 2015, according to government documents seen by Reuters.
Reuters was unable to contact either of the men listed on the Comoros documents. Neither of them have previously publicly responded to the U.S. accusations against them.
El Amine also said Comoros was working with authorities in the United Arab Emirates to establish how and to what extent a 2008 deal to offer stateless people in the Gulf Comoros citizenship in return for cash had been abused to sell passports via parallel networks.
El Amine said that an investigation had been launched to check if passports or consular positions had been issued as a result of corruption or political pressure, but authorities had already identified at least 158 diplomatic passports that had been bought and would be canceled.
"We are cleaning things up," he added. "We will simply cancel the passports. Any consul nominated through cronyism will be reversed."
(Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Hugh Lawson)