When the US “Embassy” in Accra, Ghana is actually a ramshackle building with fading paint and no evident security there’s a pretty good chance that it is, in fact, not the real embassy. For more than a decade a Ghanaian organized crime ring, in conjunction with Turkish nationals, operated a fake embassy in the country’s capital, issuing fraudulent visas and other paperwork. From the US State Department release on Operation Spartan Vanguard which eventually took down the site:
The investigation identified the main architects of the criminal operation, and two satellite locations (a dress shop and an apartment building) used for operations. The fake embassy did not accept walk-in visa appointments; instead, they drove to the most remote parts of West Africa to find customers. They would shuttle the customers to Accra, and rent them a room at a hotel nearby. The Ghanaian organized crime ring would shuttle the victims to and from the fake embassies. Locating the document vendor within the group led investigators to uncover the satellite locations and key players.
The sham embassy advertised their services through flyers and billboards to cultivate customers from Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Togo. Some of the services the embassy provided for these customers included issuance of fraudulently obtained, legitimate U.S. visas, counterfeit visas, false identification documents (including bank records, education records, birth certificates, and others) for a cost of $6,000.
Perhaps equally impressive is that even as the site was being taken down the perpetrators managed to stall authorities long enough to allow many of the criminals to arrange bail and to move the core operational efforts out of Accra, essentially maintaining the infrastructure of the scam and even rescue some of those swept up in the arrests. Ghanaian officials say they will continue to pursue the suspects but it is unclear just how successful that effort will be, especially given that those being sought have expertise in falsifying travel documents.
Also, the fact that this operated for a decade before anyone even tried to shut it down is pretty incredible.
Fake embassy exterior photo courtesy of US State Department
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