WASHINGTON, D.C. — A sham U.S. embassy run by an organized crime ring in Ghana that had been issuing phony visas for a decade, has finally been shut down, U.S. officials said.
Authorities say the bogus building in the capital of Accra flew a U.S. flag overhead, had a photo of President Obama on the wall and maintained consular working hours. But the operation was run by members of Ghanaian and Turkish criminal gangs who posed as U.S. diplomatic officials.
The outfit charged up to $6,000 to issue fraudulently obtained, legitimate U.S. visas, counterfeit visas and false identification documents, the U.S. State Department said.
The sham embassy advertised through flyers and billboards in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Togo. The criminal operation did not accept walk-in appointments. Instead the gang drove to remote parts of West Africa to find customers, who they would shuttle to Accra, and rent them a room at a hotel nearby.
It was not clear how many bogus documents the ring had issued, but U.S. officials said it had managed to operate for a decade because the criminals running it were able to pay off corrupt officials to look the other way.
Investigators were led to a dress shop where phony passports were stitched together using industrial sewing machines. Officials also recovered 150 passports from 10 countries as well as legitimate and counterfeit visas from the U.S., the Schengen zone, India, and South Africa.
Several suspects managed to get away and remain at large, U.S. officials said.