A fake US embassy run by Ghanaian and Turkish organized crime rings has been shut down after "about a decade" of operation, the State Department has announced.
The fake embassy operation, located in Ghana's capital city of Accra, issued counterfeit and fraudulently obtained visas at the price of $6,000 for roughly ten years, according to officials. One hundred and fifty passports from 10 countries and visas from the United States, India, South Africa, and the European Schengen zone were recovered in raids.
According to the State Department, the ringleaders of the scam were able to bribe corrupt officials to "look the other way," allowing the fake embassy to run "unhindered." As of press time, it was unknown how many people had been defrauded by the operation.
"This is a shocker," an anonymous Ghanaian official told the Associated Press.
The fake embassy, which featured a US flag and portrait of President Obama, didn't accept walk-in visa appointments. Instead, the State Department said, they traveled to "the most remote parts of West Africa" to find customers. They would then shuttle the customers to Accra, rent them a room at a nearby hotel, and shuttle them to and from the fake embassy locations.
The process may sound fishy at best to outside observers, and the shabby pink building that served as the operation's headquarters, while featuring an American flag and portrait of President Obama, looked nothing like the real US embassy.
But, as journalist Sammy Darko in Accra pointed out on BBC's Focus on Africa, the victims of the scam had likely never been to an embassy before and didn't know what to expect.
"They also find white people there and they assume that it is the US embassy," Mr. Darko said.
The "consular officers" at the fake embassy were not American, but rather Turkish citizens who spoke English and Dutch, according to the official report.
The announcement that the fake embassy operation had been shut down was first published by the State Department on Nov. 2, 2016, but has only gained traction in the media in recent days. The story appeared to have been just picked up by Ghanaian media last week, The Washington Post reports.
This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.