All it takes to convince people you're a US Embassy is an American flag, a picture of President Obama, and a whole lot of visas—at least in Ghana, where a ramshackle building in Accra housed a phony embassy really run by organized crime members from Ghana and Turkey, the Guardian reports. What wasn't fake: the US visas they got their hands on and doled out for the past decade. "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 US State Department said in a Nov. 2 statement (per the Washington Post, the news is only being widely reported now). A visa could be had for $6,000 from "consular officers" who were really Turkish citizens speaking English and Dutch; customers could also get other documents, including phony birth certificates and bank statements.
The "embassy," only open three days a week, advertised itself on billboards and in fliers in Ghana and other West African countries. The process of obtaining a visa legally in Ghana is a "dreadful experience," per the Ghana Business News, which is how these con operations flourish. This initiative was discovered after an informant tipped off an investigator involved in a larger trafficking and fraud probe in the area; the fraudulent business was shuttered over the summer. Officials aren't saying how workers acquired the real US visas, or how many people were actually able to enter the US using them or other fake paperwork. "Several suspects" were busted during the raid, per the State Department, with "several" still on the loose. Also unearthed during the investigation: a fake Dutch operation. (Meanwhile, Afghan interpreters who helped US troops were denied visas.)