For a decade, an American flag flew outside a battered pink building in Ghana’s capital city, welcoming out-of-town visitors who, once inside, found a photo of President Barack Obama hanging on the wall. Signs confirmed it was the US embassy in Accra.
Though the employees were not American, they spoke English and Dutch. They also issued official-looking visas and identification papers. They charged their customers $6,000. Billboards and fliers advertised the official services.
As reported by The Washington Post, there was nothing official about them. The real US embassy in Accra is white, not pink, and it sits on a large piece of land inside security fences in one of the city’s wealthiest neighbourhoods.
The battered building with the flag and Obama picture was operated by Ghanaian and Turkish organised crime rings and a Ghanaian lawyer practicing immigration and criminal law, the State Department said in a statement.
“For about a decade it operated unhindered,” the statement said. “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.”
Officials said they shut down the fraudulent operation during the summer. The US State Department released information about the investigation November 2, but the news is being widely reported only now.
According to The Washington Post, the story seems to have been first reported by Ghanaian media last week, and it cites the statement from one month ago on the State Department website. The information was not contained in a news release from the State Department or its Bureau of Diplomatic Security, but in a “behind the scenes” article written by diplomatic security staff.
In a separate report, Ghana Business News online noted that genuine visas can only be issued when there is an inside job. It also reported that some staff of the real consular section would be fired.
A source familiar with Department of State processes told Ghana Business News that employees found culpable in the crime would simply be recalled and no reasons would be assigned, and embassy staff wouldn’t even know about it.
One source who is not authorised to speak to the media told Ghana Business News that employees at this embassy apparently were engaged in illegal issuance of visas, and the travellers were arrested at the country’s entry point.