Authorities in Ghana have busted a fake United States embassy in the capital, Accra, run by a criminal network that for a decade issued illegally obtained authentic visas, the US state department has said.
Until it was shut down this summer, the sham embassy was housed in a run-down, pink two-storey building with a corrugated iron roof and flew a US flag outside. Inside hung a portrait of President Barack Obama.
“It was not operated by the US government, but by figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organised crime rings and a Ghanaian attorney practicing immigration and criminal law,” the state department said in a statement released late on Friday.
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 availabe 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 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 US 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.
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 US embassy in Ghana is a prominent and heavily fortified complex in Cantonments, 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.
The US State Department has reportedly said that no one entered the United States on visas issued by a fake US embassy that operated for a decade in Accra, Ghana.
According to Voice of America, the state department said that those who paid thousands of dollars for the documents were “conned”.
“They were duped, they were conned,” the State Department’s deputy spokesperson, Mark Toner was quoted as saying.
The fake embassy was run by a criminal network that for a decade issued illegally obtained authentic visas.
The building from which the ring operated, flew the American flag and inside hung a photo of President Barack Obama.
“It was not operated by the United Sates government, but by figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organised crime rings and a Ghanaian attorney practising immigration law, the state department said in a statement.
At least three people had since been arrested in connection with the crime, a BBC report said.
US 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. - Al Jazeera