The United States’ State Department has confirmed that a fake embassy operating in the name of the country was busted in Ghana, West Africa.
The fake embassy operated in the center of the capital, Accra, in a busy suburb called Adabraka. Security officials reportedly raided the fake embassy in November, but details of the story were disclosed to the media in December.
Due to a rapid increase in unemployment in many countries in sub-Sahara Africa, the majority of the youth living in these areas have a strong desire to seek greener pastures elsewhere around the world, especially in the United States or Europe. This has increased pressure on American and European embassies in West Africa, and Africa in general.
To make matters worse, American and European governments are increasingly tightening travel rules for travelers from these countries. Therefore, many of the youth resort to irregular means to get to their preferred destinations. Some walk many days in the Sahara without food and water, before crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. This results in many losses of lives during the perilous journey. Those who can’t or won’t put their lives at risk, turn to people issuing fake travel documents.
According to the State Department, the fake embassy that was busted in Ghana provided fraudulent United States visas, education records, birth certificates, counterfeit bank records, education records, and other travel documents for prospective clients. The State Department revealed that the criminals operating the embassy charged $6,000 for their illegal services.
The building housing the fake embassy is said to be an unsecured two-storey building. The criminals operating the embassy flew a United States flag every Monday, Tuesday and Friday morning. Inside the building, they hung a photo of President Barack Obama, in order to convince unsuspecting clients that it was a genuine embassy.
According to the State Department, the fake embassy advertised its services with fliers and billboards and targeted citizens of Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Togo. The embassy did not accept walk-in appointments. The criminals, rather, went around to other West African countries looking for potential customers who wanted documents to travel to the United States.
“For about a decade it operated 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. 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,” the State Department explained in a statement.
The State Department alleged that the ringleaders who operated the embassy are Turkish citizens, speaking both English and Dutch. An unnamed Ghanaian immigration attorney was also fingered in the scandal. It is said the attorney provided legal service for the criminals to obtain Ghanaian residential permits.
The State Department claimed that several suspects were arrested during the raid of the fake embassy. The department said Ghanaian police who were involved in the raid found over 150 passports from 10 different countries. The passports contained both legitimate and counterfeit visas from the United States, the Schengen zone, India and South Africa. However, the State Department failed to provide the identities of the Turkish citizens or those arrested. It also turned down numerous requests by Ghanaian local media to have images of those arrested, published.
According to the State Department, the operation that busted the fake embassy was codenamed Operation Spartan Vanguard. Operation Spartan Vanguard was initiated by the Regional Security Office at the original United States embassy in Ghana, addressing human trafficking concerns and fraud from Africa to the United States.
Ghanaian security officials arrested a visa fraudster who later disclosed the fake embassy operation. The Ghanaian security officials reportedly alerted the real embassy of the United States, which is located in a secure complex at an exclusive neighborhood in Accra.
The State Department failed to provide the number of people who had traveled on these fake documents to the United States, or elsewhere around the world. However, the department did say that Operation Spartan Vanguard has cut the export of fraudulent documents by 70%. It also added that this is just the beginning of a larger operation yet to take place in other West African nations to clamp down on visa fraudsters.
Before this bust, the German state broadcaster, Deutsche Welle had reported that Western embassies in Africa are growing more concerned over the criminal networks issuing fake traveling documents to people.
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