By Arab News
Authorities in Ghana have closed a fake “US Embassy” in the capital, Accra. It was run by a criminal network that issued illegally obtained authentic visas for a decade, the US State Department said.
Until it was shut down this summer, the fake embassy was housed in a run-down, pink two-story building with a corrugated iron roof and a US flag flying outside. Inside hung a picture of President Barack Obama.
“It was not operated by the United States government, but by figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organized crime rings and a Ghanaian attorney practicing immigration and criminal law,” the State Department said in a statement released to Arab News on Sunday.
English and Dutch-speaking Turkish citizens posed as consular officers and ran the operation. Investigations also uncovered a fake “Dutch Embassy,” the State Department said. Officials in The Netherlands were not available for comment on Sunday.
The crime ring issued fraudulently obtained but legitimate US visas and false identification documents, including birth certificates, at a cost of $6,000 per person, the statement said.
During raids that led to a number of arrests, authorities seized authentic and counterfeit Indian, South African and Schengen visas along with 150 passports from 10 different countries, a laptop and smartphones.
The statement did not say how the gang obtained the authentic visas, nor did the State Department say how many people were believed to have illegally entered the US and other countries using visas issued by the crime ring which paid bribes in order to operate.
“The criminals running the operation were able to pay off corrupt officials who looked the other way, as well as to obtain legitimate blank documents to be doctored,” the statement said.
There was no immediate comment from Ghana’s Criminal Investigations Division.
Visas for Western countries are in high demand in Africa and embassies say the visa market is one targeted by organized crime.
The genuine US Embassy in Ghana is in a prominent and heavily fortified complex in Cantonments, one of the capital’s up-market neighborhoods. Lines of people queue outside each day for visa appointments and other businesses.
The fake embassy was open three mornings a week and did not accept walk-in appointments. Instead, the criminals advertized on billboards in Ghana, Togo and Ivory Coast and brought clients from across West Africa to Accra where they rented hotel rooms for them in nearby hotels.
US authorities conducting a broader security operation were tipped off about the fake embassy and assembled a team, including the Ghana Detectives Bureau and police as well as other international partners, to close down the ring’s operations.