Ghana has been rocked by the shutdown of a fake U.S. embassy run by Ghanaian and Turkish mobsters, which issued phony visas for a decade with the indulgence of corrupt Ghanaian officials.
The Washington Post describes the operation:
For a decade, an American flag flew outside a battered pink building in Ghana’s capital city, welcoming out-of-town visitors who, once inside, found a photo of President Obama hanging on the wall. Signs confirmed to travelers — who had been bused in from the most remote parts of West Africa — that they had arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Accra.
The “consular officers” working there were not Americans, but they spoke English and Dutch and issued official-looking visas and identification papers. They charged their customers $6,000.
The real U.S. embassy is in an entirely different, much wealthier neighborhood, and is protected by security fences.
“Raids led to the recovery of 150 passports from 10 countries and visas from the U.S., India, South Africa and the European Schengen zone,” the Associated Press reports.
The Associated Press adds that the U.S. State Department did not state whether customers were able to travel on these visas, some of which were “fraudulently obtained” but “legitimate,” according to the State Department. False documents including bank records, education records, and birth certificates were also provided.
An industrial sewing machine at a nearby dress shop was reportedly used to bind the covers on counterfeit documents produced by the operation. The dress shop was also reportedly employed to ship fake documents across Africa and Europe.
The phony embassy advertised its services with billboards and fliers in Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Tobago, in addition to sending out cars to “the most remote parts of West Africa” to ferry customers to the Ghanaian capital city of Accra.
Despite all this advertising, the phony embassy was able to stay in business for the better part of a decade with help from corrupt officials bribed by the gangsters to look the other way.
A corrupt Ghanaian attorney was also a key player in the operation, serving as Africa’s version of Better Call Saul. One of his contributions involved keeping the police from searching the dress shop by convincing them a different court case was already pending on the store. As the State Department explained, this other case was “determined to be fallacious, but it bought enough time for corrupt officials to arrange for bail for members of the organized crime group so that they could move the document production facility outside of Accra.”
One of the most curious details of this story is the way it was reported. The phony embassy was actually raided and shut down over the summer, but even though the U.S. State Department was a key part of the investigation, the raid wasn’t publicized in any news releases by State or its Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Only last week did the news break in Ghanaian media, prompting international coverage from major media over the weekend.
“State Department officials in Ghana deferred questions to the media office in Washington, which did not immediately respond to a request for more information,” the Washington Post reports.
The State Department mentioned that an informant also said a fake embassy for the Netherlands was being operated in Accra. The UK Telegraph reported that “officials in the Netherlands were not immediately reachable for comment on Sunday.”
According to Reuters, it was a tip to American authorities that kicked off the investigation, which ultimately included “the Ghana Detectives Bureau and police as well as other international partners to shut down the ring.”