The US State Department on November 2, 2016, issued a statement that Ghanaian and Turkish organised crime rings were running the fake embassy complete with a US flag and a portrait of President Barack Obama on the blind side for about a decade from the property.
However, owners of the property, the Lampteys, have flatly denied that the house was ever used for such nefarious activities. They have asked the US government to provide proof or face legal action. When contacted, Press Attaché of the US Embassy in Accra, Sara Veldhuizen Stealy, sent this response, “We cannot speculate at this time what has occurred at that building after the initial raid. “The photo used in the online article is of the building the criminal enterprise used to conduct their fraud operations”.
The Lamptey family on Saturday lodged a complaint with the Adabraka police but the police said the matter was beyond them and directed the family to seek legal advice. The family said they are considering suing the US government for bringing the name of the family into disrepute and unlawful use of their property. The statement further noted that, a string operation has led to the closure of a cartel that was operating a fake US Embassy in Accra, Ghana. Even though they did not state the location of the building, The Finder managed to locate the said building using the photo posted alongside the statement.
THE FADED HOUSE
The faded one story building, located on Official Street (formerly A-51 Ahinakwa street) at Adabraka in Accra has eight rooms, one big hall and a boys quarters. One side of the front gate has fallen-off with lots of grits on the compound. The building, with house number C135/1, is not far from Accra-based radio station Citi 97.3 FM and a few metres from the Odaw River that runs through Kwame Nkrumah Circle. An abandoned vehicle occupies part of the compound whilst the remaining space serves as a work place for baking pastries. Two women, Madam Susana Odarkai Lamptey and Anna Odarkor Lamptey who said they are granddaughters of the late Mr P. D Lamptey, the man who built the house, told The Finder that they have lived in that house for at least four decades now.
The granddaughters said they were shocked when a Ghanaian Catholic Priest serving in Papau New Guinea, who was born and grew up in the house, sent the photo of the house attached to a story online to one of their cousins in Ghana who quickly forward to members of the family. According to the two women, the late Mr Lamptey shared the rooms to his eight children. They explained that only one of Mr Lamptey’s children, Caroline Lankai Lamptey, who is currently 80 years old, is alive and lives in Accra but does not reside in the house. They stated that three grandchildren are residing in four of the rooms inherited from their parents while three of the rooms have been rented out by grandchildren who inherited them.
They said one of the rooms is currently empty because the grand child occupying it passed away some three months ago but his cousins had come to clean up the room recently. Some tenants, who spoke to The Finder on condition of anonymity, expressed worry about the use of the house in such a criminal story, adding that nothing like that had happened where they live. Madam Odarkai Lamptey, who said she was born in the house in 1956 and has since lived there, expressed surprise at the association of the house with such criminality. She even showed The Finder a letter to prove that as recently as May, this year, she applied for visa in the US Embassy in Accra based on an invitation to visit one of her cousins in the US but was refused the visa. She wondered why she would apply to the official US Embassy for visa if a processing centre existed in her own house.
VISA MERCHANTS SOPHISTICATED
Visa scam merchants are everywhere. They are usually individuals or groups who try everything they can to rip innocent victims of thousands of dollars in exchange for a worthless stamp. They pose as intermediaries claiming they can help their victims obtained visas. However, the setting up of a fake embassy is “most extreme” a diplomat disclosed to The Finder. Apart from Ghana, another fake embassy was uncovered last week in Lagos, Nigeria, issuing visas for Trinidad and Tobago.
The spectrum of this visa fraud is very developed if not sophisticated. Our sources indicate that the US government with the help of the police administration busted the criminal gang in the fake embassy saga in February this year. But news went viral only after the US State Department made it public this month. The gang is said to have issued both real US visas and fake once for $6,000 (£4,700) for “about a decade to both Ghanaians and other west African nationals. They were also accused of issuing fake visas of other European countries and that of South Africa. Our sources say the issue of legitimate visas could only have been obtained with the assistance of corrupt officials inside embassies of the named countries in Ghana.
Security agencies in Ghana are quiet on the subject with some denying knowledge such a sting operation. US embassy in Accra said all queries about the closure of the fake embassy would be forwarded to the State Department for response. The State Department has not released the names and photographs of members of the gang, who have been arrested and the US embassy in Accra, but explained that it is because investigations are continuing.
As at the time of filing this report yesterday, the State Department had not disclosed where those arrested are being detained, whether in Ghana or in US. If indeed a criminal gang was busted, then two scenarios readily come to mind – either the US department got the building wrong, a case of mistaken identity, or that such a building was only picked with the erroneous understanding that it was nearly impossible to find where it was located.
By Elvis DARKO & Sammy DARKO, Accra