Alleged visa-faking ring in Ghana

The fake fake US embassy

According to the US government a crime ring issued fake US visas out of an inconspicuous building in Ghana. The people living there are mystified.

A pink building

A visa-faking ring allegedly operated out of this house in Accra, Ghana Foto: Katrin Gänsler

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ACCRA taz | „You can go around and search and look. When you came did you see anything? Did you see passports or visa?“ Susanah O. Lamptrey opens the old wooden door of her room. An ancient fridge hums, clothes lie on a chair, a yellow petrol canister sits in the corner.

Nowhere is there a smiling Barack Obama or an American flag. But the U.S. State Department, in a report which generated more headlines in the USA and Europe than in Ghana itself, says that this house in Accra, with once bright pink crumbling paintwork, was the centre of a Ghanaian-Turkish forgery ring. One single photo of the house, credited „U.S. State Department“, adorns all international reports about this story.

The Stars and Stripes allegedly flew from this building three times a week. Clients allegedly paid $6000 for a visa here. They didn't necessarily come to this building; a clothing store and an apartment block were supposedly involved. But, if the US reports are to be believed, they surely passed by this „fake embassy“, as this house belonging to the Lamptrey family is now known.

The story was already making headlines worldwide when Susanah O. Lamptrey first heard about it. An acquaintance phoned her and told her. „Somebody rang me“, she says. „That was what he had seen on TV. He had said that they will come round. The police will come and those who are working with the American embassy.“

On its homepage, the U.S. State Department mentions a police raid. But noone ever came to the house, Susanah O. Lamptrey insists. Not a single policeman.

It's one of the many contradictions in this story, which the real US Embassy in Ghana – situated in a high security complex in Cantonments – declines to comment. If this house really was a centre or at least a part of a huge international visa forgery scam over ten years, as alleged, it should at least have been shut down and sealed off.

Afraid of ‚malicious rumours‘

The visa forgery department in the Ghanaian police has no knowledge of this house. It says it was never alerted to this address. Weekly, around 25 people claiming to be victims of visa scams press charges here. Lamptrey's house has never featured.

So another conclusion is possible: As the alleged forgery scam remained undiscovered for ten years, perhaps real visas were being sold illegally? Which could only have been done by real US Embassy staff. Is someone trying to cover their tracks?

At Susanah O. Lamptrey's house, neighbours are gathering. The significance of the photo circulating worldwide is slowly sinking in. Curious people might pass by, malicious rumours could circulate. Mrs Lamptrey is not amused. „Yes, very, very angry“, she says. „The one who said they are doing the visa here, I want to see this fellow. He has to apologize.“

Visa denied

The 60-year old woman has nowhere else to live. „This is a family house. My grandfather gave each of his eight children a room. This is my father's room. I was born here.“

Then suddenly she laughs. „If you like I go in and bring you the book so that you can be sure. There was no fake embassy here.“

Sh goes into her room and comes back with a transparent folder, containing a visa rejection letter from the US Embassy in Ghana. „My sister wanted me to come to America. They didn't give me [the visa]. If they are doing American embassy in that house why would I have asked for one at the embassy? By that time I would be in America.“

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