For about a decade, Turkish and Ghanaian organized crime rings operated a fake U.S. embassy in Ghana's capital, where they issued fraudulently obtained legitimate and counterfeit visas and ID documents costing $6,000 to people from across West Africa.
That's according to the U.S. State Department, which detailed how the operation worked.
"In Accra, Ghana, there was a building that flew an American flag every Monday, Tuesday and Friday, 7:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Inside hung a photo of President Barack Obama, and signs indicated that you were in the U.S. Embassy in Ghana," reads an article from the State Department's Diplomatic Security Bureau. "However, you were not. This embassy was a sham."
The "embassy" was shut down by Ghanaian authorities this summer, in cooperation with the real U.S. Embassy, following a tip from an informant. Authorities have arrested "several suspects" and confiscated "150 passports from 10 countries," according to the article. They also discovered a fake Dutch embassy and continue to pursue "several" other suspects.
Turkish citizens who spoke English and Dutch posed as "consular officers," according to the State Department. The building of the fake embassy is definitely not flashy. Here it is:
And here's the real U.S. Embassy in Ghana's capital city, Accra, described by Reuters as "a prominent and heavily fortified complex in Cantonments, one of the capital's most expensive neighbourhoods":
The State Department says the organized crime rings brought customers in from remote areas of Ghana, Ivory Coast and Togo who responded to advertising on fliers and billboards. Here's more:
"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."
The criminals were able to get away with the sham operation for a decade by bribing corrupt officials, who also supplied "legitimate blank documents to be doctored," the article reads.
"No visa obtained through this fraud scheme was used to enter the United States," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Monday. "Why is that? Because it's very, very, hard to counterfeit U.S. visas these days. It's a highly secure document. It's got numerous security features designed to prevent successful counterfeiting and so this operation failed."
He added that he is not aware of anyone attempting to use a fake visa, though they are still "going through some assessment of this operation."
Ghanaian officials told The Associated Press on Monday that "they were still collecting information and were not prepared to comment." But as one anonymous official told the wire service: "This is a shocker."