Authorities in Ghana busted a fake U.S. embassy in the capital Accra run by a criminal network that for a decade issued illegally obtained authentic visas, the U.S. State Department said.
Until it was shut down this summer, the sham embassy was housed in a run-down, pink two-story building with a corrugated iron roof and flew a U.S. flag outside. Inside hung a portrait of President Barack Obama.
“It was not operated by the U.S., but by figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organized crime rings and a Ghanaian attorney,” the State Department said in a statement late on Dec. 2
Turkish citizens, who spoke English and Dutch, posed as consular officers and staffed the operation.
Investigations also uncovered a fake Dutch embassy, the State Department said.
The crime ring issued fraudulently obtained but legitimate U.S. visas and false identification documents, including birth certificates at a cost of $6,000 each, the statement said.
During raids that led to a number of arrests, authorities also seized authentic and counterfeit Indian, South African and Schengen Zone visas and 150 passports from 10 different countries along with a laptop and smart phones.
The statement did not say how the gang obtained the authentic visas. And the State Department did not say how many people were believed to have illegally entered the United States and other countries using visas issued by the crime ring, which used bribery to operate 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,” the statement said.
The real U.S. embassy in Ghana is a prominent and heavily fortified complex in Cantonments, one of the capital’s most expensive neighborhoods. Lines of people queue outside each day for visa appointments and other consular business.
The fake embassy was open three mornings a week and did not accept walk-in appointments. Instead, the criminals advertised on billboards in Ghana, Togo and Ivory Coast and brought clients from across West Africa to Accra where they rented them hotel rooms in nearby hotels.