The long read: Last year, the US state department said it had uncovered a fake embassy in Accra that had been issuing a creek of forged visas. The tale went viral but all was not as it seemed
On Friday 2 December 2016, a curious narrative appeared on the website GhanaBusinessNews.com.” Ghana security authorities shut down fake US Embassy in Accra ,” the headline declared. For a decade, the narrative ran, there had been a fake US embassy in the Ghanaian capital. The fraudsters behind it had flown the American flag from their house and even hung a portrait of Barack Obama on the wall. The criminal network behind the swindle had advertised on billboards and prowled the most remote villages of west Africa, searching for gullible clients. They brought them to Accra, and sold them visas for as much as $6,000( PS4, 495 ).
The story was an immediate hit.” In less than an hour “were in” get 20,000 positions on the website for that tale alone ,” Emmanuel Dogbevi, the website’s managing editor, told me. Two weeks later, the news agency Reuters picked up the narrative and it swiftly became an international sensation.
” No Passport Control: Mobsters busted after running FAKE US Embassy in Ghana for 10 years”( The Sun ). “‘ Sham’ US embassy in Ghana issued fake visas for a decade”( Fox News ).” Ghana uncovers fake US embassy that issued authentic visas”( Deutsche Welle ).” The actual US embassy in Accra shut down the fake embassy over the summer ,” stated the Chinese news organization Xinhua.” This takes counterfeiting operations to a whole new level ,” read a comment about the narrative on the Times of India website, which triggered an argument between readers over which country did corruption better.
According to a US state department statement, which had been published in early November, the fake embassy was operated by” figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organized crime rings and a Ghanaian attorney practising immigration and criminal matters “. The American authorities rendered a picture of an old, two-storey pink building with a tin roof, originally captioned:” The exterior of the fake embassy in Accra, Ghana .” The caption was subsequently changed to:” One of several buildings used by the interrupted hoax ring .”
Reuters reported that the Americans, with the help of the Ghana Detectives Bureau, had raided the fake embassy. Several people were arrested, and officials seized 150 passports from 10 different countries. The Ghanaian police did not distinguish themselves. The conmen eluded them long enough to move the operation out of Ghana, and get their associates out on bail. But, the US state department said, the number of fraudulent documents coming from west Africa had gone down by 70% as a result of this and other raids, and” criminal leaders no longer have the political covering they once had “.
The fake embassy became a sensation largely because the tale was so predictably familiar. The Africans were scammers. The victims were desperate and credulous. The local police officers were bumbling moronics. Countless officials were paid off. And at the end, the Americans swooped in and saved the day. There was only one problem with the tale: it wasn’t true.
On the morning the news violated, Seth Sewornu, who was then head of Ghana’s visa and document hoax division, got a text message from the director of the police criminal investigation department( CID ). Like everybody else, the director wanted to know about Sewornu’s bust.” I was receiving a lot of bellows ,” Sewornu said when we met earlier this year in an open-air restaurant near the police headquarters in Accra.” A reporter from BBC called me, a CNN reporter called me. The Ghanaian media homes were all calling to find out. I got calls from other police officer .” The US state department narrative have been told that the scammers had also been running a fake Dutch embassy, so the Dutch called, too.
Sewornu was stumped. He knew nothing about any investigations into a fake embassy. He tried to find out which officers had been involved, but the police unit credited by the Americans, the Ghana Detectives Bureau, didn’t exist. Ghana’s national Swat unit, the CID and the Bureau of National Investigation all told Sewornu that they weren’t involved either.
It didn’t make any sense. The entire tale seemed to be based on one source: the US state department website. And their source was the US embassy in Accra.” So I called the American embassy to find out, and my contact said:’ I don’t know anything about it ,'” said Sewornu.” It was like the latter are tightlipped over the issues .”
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