Before there were fake news stories, there was a fake U.S. embassy in Accra, the capital of Ghana. It opened three times a week, flew a U.S. flag, had a picture of President Obama on the wall and issued bogus visas for $6,000, according to a U.S. State Department report.
It operated for 10 years but was shut down last summer after an investigation by the real U.S. Embassy and Ghanaian police.
“None of the individuals who purchased counterfeit visas traveled to the U.S.,” said William Cocks, spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.
The report issued in early November blamed the sham office on Ghanaian and Turkish organized crime rings that bribed officials to avoid detection and sold fake visas to unsuspecting travelers.
“Consul officers” were Turkish nationals who spoke English and Dutch, the report said. The gangs also operated a fake Netherlands embassy, according to the State Department.
“The sham embassy advertised their services through flyers and billboards to cultivate customers from Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Togo,” the report said.
Cocks said criminals operated a large counterfeiting operation by copying U.S. visas on expired passports they had purchased. The visas had none of the biometric data found on legitimate U.S. visas and would never have been able to be passed off as real, he said.
The State Department said the scheme came to light when an informant tipped off officials during an ongoing investigation called Operation Spartan Vanguard, which looks into criminal activity.
Several suspects were arrested during a raid on the site but several others are still at large and warrants have been issued for their arrest. Also, the hunt for Turkish criminal gang members who were involved continues.