ACCRA, Ghana — A fake U.S. embassy that operated for "about a decade'' in Ghana's capital issuing counterfeit and fraudulently obtained visas has been shut down, the State Department announced.
The scam was orchestrated by "Ghanaian and Turkish organized crime rings'' and a Ghanaian attorney, a statement said. Several suspects have been arrested, though others remain at large.
Raids led to the recovery of 150 passports from 10 countries and visas from the U.S., India, South Africa and the European Schengen zone.
It was not clear how many people were defrauded by the fake embassy, which charged $6,000 for its services.
An industrial sewing machine is suspected to have been used to bind fake passports. (Photo: Getty Images)
Those running the operation were able to bribe corrupt officials "to look the other way,'' the State Department said. Ghanaian officials said Monday they were still collecting information and were not prepared to comment.
"This is a shocker,'' said one Ghanaian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists about the case.
The State Department did not specify whether people who were issued legitimate but "fraudulently obtained'' visas were able to travel on them. The real U.S. Embassy did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
"This is a shocker."
Those involved in the scheme would drive "to the most remote parts of West Africa'' to find visa applicants and transport them to Accra, the State Department said. They also used fliers and billboards to lure victims from Ghana, Ivory Coast and Togo.
Victims would be taken for appointments at the "embassy,'' which featured an American flag and photo of President Barack Obama. The fake consular officers were Turkish.
The scheme also used satellite locations including a dress shop. An industrial sewing machine is suspected to have been used to bind fake passports.
Associated Press writer Robbie Corey-Boulet in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, contributed.