Authorities in Ghana have busted a fake U.S. embassy in the capital Accra, run by a criminal network that had issued legitimate, but fraudulently obtained visas for one decade, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
The statement noted that until its shutdown this summer, the sham embassy was housed in a run-down, pink two-storey building with a corrugated iron roof and flew a U.S. flag outside it, adding that it hung the portrait of U.S. President, Barack Obama, inside it.
The U.S. statement added that “it was not operated by the United States Government, but by figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organised crime rings and a Ghanaian attorney practicing immigration and criminal law.”
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.
Officials in the Netherlands were not immediately reachable for comment on Sunday.
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.
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 U.S. State Department statement, however, did not say how the gang obtained the authentic visas and did not say how many people were believed to have illegally entered the U.S. and other countries using visas issued by the crime ring.
“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.
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 a big target for organised crime.
The real U.S. Embassy in Ghana is a prominent and heavily fortified complex in Cantonments, Accra, one of the capital’s most expensive neighbourhoods.
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 rooms in nearby hotels.
U.S. authorities conducting a broader security operation were tipped off about it and assembled a team, including the Ghana Detectives Bureau and police, as well as other international partners to shut down the ring.