Now that you’re gone, I’m left all alone

The title, get it? Those are lyrics from the song “Donna,” and this post is about “Ghana” and…oh whatever.

Apologies for being away from the blog. Alhurra asked me to do a show today and there went my afternoon. I’ll be back with some conflict news tonight. Meanwhile, where was I? Oh, right, Ghana. Yes, about Ghana…

For about a decade, Turkish and Ghanaian organized crime rings operated a fake U.S. embassy in Ghana’s capital, where they issued fraudulently obtained legitimate and counterfeit visas and ID documents costing $6,000 to people from across West Africa.

That’s according to the U.S. State Department, which detailed how the operation worked.

“In Accra, Ghana, there was a building that flew an American flag every Monday, Tuesday and Friday, 7:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Inside hung a photo of President Barack Obama, and signs indicated that you were in the U.S. Embassy in Ghana,” reads an article from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Bureau. “However, you were not. This embassy was a sham.”

The “embassy” was shut down by Ghanaian authorities this summer, in cooperation with the real U.S. Embassy, following a tip from an informant. Authorities have arrested “several suspects” and confiscated “150 passports from 10 countries,” according to the article. They also discovered a fake Dutch embassy and continue to pursue “several” other suspects.

I guess it’s OK to laugh at this now because no real harm was done, other than to America’s reputation for architectural taste (seriously, go to that NPR story and look at what these guys managed to pass off as the US Embassy) and to the suckers who spent all that money to apparently no effect (actually I feel kind of bad about the suckers, or at least some of them). The crooks apparently went looking for their marks proactively–they didn’t accept “walk-ins,” but rather went to “the most remote parts of West Africa” to solicit people to buy visas. That probably should have been the first clue that something was off, but then, as the BBC points out, if you’ve never seen an embassy before and/or are desperate enough to escape your situation that you’ll believe anything, you can be a pretty easy mark for something like this.

The State Department insists that “no visa obtained through this fraud scheme was used to enter the United States,” and given that there hasn’t been any catastrophe perpetrated in the US by a fake-Ghanaian-visa-carrying al-Qaeda operative over the past decade, I think we have to assume that they’re telling the truth. But man, talk about a security threat.

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