How do you run a fake US Embassy?

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And you do it for whole 10 years?  Issuing genuine US visas and doing things what diplomatic posts do? Not only that, you are also doing it in the same city which actually happens to have a genuine US Embassy!

This is exactly what happened in the west African country of Ghana. A Ghanaian – Turkish mob set-up and ran a fake US embassy in nation’s capital: Accra. And they did it for 10 years (and reportedly there was also some fake “Dutch Embassy” in the mix, but so far not much information came about that).

Well, the fake US embassy was not exactly in a posh neighborhood like the genuine one and the building it was occupying was not quite a match for the genuine one. But it did the job. It has handed over genuine visas to its west African “clients” who wished to travel to the USA for a better future. Rumor has it that they have actually treated those visa seekers more kindly than the real embassy (personnel in visa departments of US embassies worldwide are famous for their very unkind treatment of visa seekers).

 

But how did they convince the people that they were “the embassy”?

Well, this embassy was not your ordinary embassy. They have not waited for people to knock on their doors. They had a different “business model”. They have gone to the door of their “clients”. They have advertised in small towns in all over the west Africa, from Ghana to Ivory Coast to Togo. They have done it by distributing flyers, renting billboards or just approaching the people.

Once they found the people interested, they have reportedly arranged a hotel for them nearby this enterprising “embassy”. The clients would stay there and be shuttled to the “embassy” whenever necessary.

And once they came to the “embassy” building, how come people have not realized that this was not the genuine one? Actually the difference between the fake and genuine embassies could not have been more striking. The real US embassy, located in a posh district of Accra. It is a huge white building with a high security fence all around it. The fake (or the enterprising) one on the hand, is a inconspicuous 2 story building which needs a paint job (not because it was pink, but its paint had faded at places) in a low income neighborhood of Accra.

So how did the people not suspect that this building was fake? For one, it sported a US flag and a picture of president Obama. But probably the real answer lies in the fact that, most of its clientele were people from the small towns of the West Africa who had probably never seen an embassy in their whole lives. So the first one they saw was this and also when they saw those non-African employees speaking English posing as US consular officers (the Turks), they were convinced that this was the embassy.

And for those who realized the fact, it probably did not matter anyway! All they wanted was getting US visa for a better future and this place was ready to provide it  without all that hassle at the genuine embassy!

 

But how come they got away with it for 10 years?

Well, here is where some introduction to Third World Country politics would help. But it is best to tick to one word: corruption.  Reportedly, the fraudsters have paid the authorities to look the other way. Actually not only that, they have even purchased the services of the same authorities. Like for buying birth certificates, bank records, diplomas and other education documents. The fraudsters needed them to get the genuine visas from the genuine embassy.

And all this work came to an end when somebody informed the authorities this summer. Probably not to the Ghanaian authorities, but to the US embassy (the real one, presumably). Then doing nothing about it was just not possible anymore. Well sort of. Even at this stage some corrupt attorney tried to stop the police searching the crime scene citing “another ongoing investigation”. But at the end, the “embassy” buildings were searched. 150 Passports from 10 nations found along with everything else used by the fraudsters.

And the result? A couple of people have been arrested but reportedly a large number of the fraudsters are on the run…

 

Go deeper:

Regional Security Office Ghana Shuts Down Fake Embassy, US State Department

(image: US State department)