WASHINGTON • Fraudsters posing as consular officers operated a fake American embassy in the Ghanaian capital Accra for about a decade, duping clients for thousands of dollars paid for counterfeit visas.
According to the US State Department, the fake embassy did not accept walk-in appointments and staff would instead drive to remote parts of West Africa to find clients.
The "embassy" workers - in reality Turkish and Ghanaian gangsters - then shuttled prospective clients back to Accra, put them up in a hotel and ultimately billed them for as much as US$6,000 (S$8,500) for dodgy paperwork.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said it is believed no one had entered the US with one of the fake visas, which were reproductions based on genuine documents the conmen had obtained.
"This fake embassy made and printed counterfeit visas using expired visas as a blueprint," he said.
"It's very, very hard to counterfeit US visas these days... and so this operation failed."
A State Department photo of the fake embassy shows a dilapidated, orange-walled building with rain damage, surrounded by a cracked and buckled sidewalk.
By contrast, the real United States Embassy is an imposing facility in a prestigious area of Accra, surrounded by tight security and other diplomatic centres.
"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," the State Department said last month.
Asked how the fake embassy was able to operate for so long, Mr Toner suggested it might be because victims were embarrassed. "They were duped, they were conned," he said. "You don't necessarily go running to the police and say, 'I illegally obtained a US visa and, oh, by the way it looks terrible'."