Authorities in Ghana have recently shut down a fake United States embassy in the capital Accra that had been issuing illegally-obtained but authentic visas for the last 10 years. The fake institution was being run by members of organized crime from both Ghana and Turkey.
The real U.S. embassy in Acra is a large office building complete with security fencing and U.S. military guards, located in one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods, while the fake one was just a rundown, pink two-storey building with a corrugated iron roof and a United States flag flown outside. There were no actual Americans working there, not even con artists. Instead the staff was made up of English-speaking Ghanian and Turkish citizens. And yet, for 10 years, the organized crime ring operating this fake embassy was able to convince people to pay thousands of dollars for visas and false identification documents. Maybe it was the portrait of Barrack Obama that police found inside that made the place seem legit.
No that wasn’t it, actually, the criminals behind the operation were just really careful and paid off officials to turn a blind eye to their activities. The U.S. State Department revealed that the fake embassy operated three days a week, and didn’t accept walk-ins. Instead it used billboards and flyers to advertise their services in other cities in Ghana, but also Togo and the Ivory Coast. Interested clients were transported to Accra and offered accommodation in nearby hotels. At the embassy, they could pay for illegally obtained but legitimate U.S. visas, as well as false documents at a price of $6,000 each.
“It was not operated by the United States government, but by figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organised crime rings and a Ghanaian attorney practising immigration and criminal law,” The U.S. State Department said in a statement. “For about a decade it operated unhindered. The criminals running the operation were able to pay off corrupt officials to look the other way, as well as obtain legitimate blank documents to be doctored.”
U.S. authorities were tipped off about the decade-old fake embassy while working on a completely different operation, and managed to shut it down with the help of the Ghana Detectives Bureau and police, as well as international partners. During the raid, they found 150 passports from 10 different countries and legitimate and counterfeit visas from the U.S., India, and South Africa.
Police could have gotten their hands on the industrial sewing machine used to recreate the binding on passports, but while preparing to raid the dress shop that allegedly housed the machinery, a corrupt local attorney falsely told detectives that they could not access the building because it was currently involved in another court case. By the time this claim was dismissed as a lie, the scammers arrested at the fake embassy had already been bailed out and managed to move all their counterfeiting facility elsewhere.
Reuters reports that visas for Western countries are in high demand in Africa, making them a target for organized crime.
Photos: U.S. State Department