Passport Wedding Invitation Template

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On Friday 2 December 2016, a analytical adventure appeared on the website GhanaBusinessNews.com. “Ghana aegis authorities shut bottomward affected US Admiral in Accra,” the banderole declared. For a decade, the adventure went, there had been a affected US admiral in the Ghanaian capital. The fraudsters abaft it had aureate the American banderole from their architecture and alike afraid a account of Barack Obama on the wall. The bent arrangement abaft the betray had advertised on billboards and prowled the best alien villages of west Africa, analytic for believing customers. They brought them to Accra, and awash them visas for as abundant as $6,000 (£4,495).

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The adventure was an absolute hit. “In beneath than an hour we were accepting 20,000 angle on the website for that adventure alone,” Emmanuel Dogbevi, the website’s managing editor, told me. Two canicule later, the account bureau Reuters best up the adventure and it apace became an all-embracing sensation.

“No Authorization Control: Mobsters bankrupt afterwards active FAKE US Admiral in Ghana for 10 years” (The Sun). “‘Sham’ US admiral in Ghana issued affected visas for a decade” (Fox News). “Ghana uncovers affected US admiral that issued accurate visas” (Deutsche Welle). “The absolute US admiral in Accra shut bottomward the affected admiral over the summer,” declared the Chinese account bureau Xinhua. “This takes counterfeiting operations to a accomplished new level,” apprehend a animadversion about the adventure on the Times of India website, which triggered an altercation amid readers over which country did bribery better.

According to a US accompaniment administration statement, which had been appear in aboriginal November, the affected admiral was operated by “figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organized abomination rings and a Ghanaian advocate practicing clearing and bent law”. The American authorities supplied a account of an old, two-storey blush architecture with a tin roof, originally captioned: “The exoteric of the affected admiral in Accra, Ghana.” The account was afterwards afflicted to: “One of several barrio acclimated by the disrupted artifice ring.”

Reuters appear that the Americans, with the advice of the Ghana Detectives Bureau, had raided the affected embassy. Several bodies were arrested, and admiral bedeviled 150 passports from 10 altered countries. The Ghanaian badge did not analyze themselves. The conmen eluded them connected abundant to move the operation out of Ghana, and get their assembly out on bail. But, the US accompaniment administration said, the cardinal of affected abstracts advancing from west Africa had gone bottomward by 70% as a aftereffect of this and added raids, and “criminal leaders no best accept the political awning they already had”.

The affected admiral became a awareness abundantly because the adventure was so predictably familiar. The Africans were scammers. The victims were atrocious and credulous. The bounded badge admiral were bumbling idiots. Countless admiral were paid off. And at the end, the Americans swooped in and adored the day. There was alone one botheration with the story: it wasn’t true.

On the morning the account broke, Seth Sewornu, who was afresh arch of Ghana’s acceptance and certificate artifice unit, got a argument bulletin from the administrator of the badge bent analysis administration (CID). Like anybody else, the administrator basic to apperceive about Sewornu’s bust. “I was accepting a lot of calls,” Sewornu said aback we met beforehand this year in an amphitheater restaurant abreast the badge abode in Accra. “A anchorman from BBC declared me, a CNN anchorman declared me. The Ghanaian media houses were all calling to acquisition out. I got calls from added badge officers.” The US accompaniment administration adventure had said that the scammers had additionally been active a affected Dutch embassy, so the Dutch called, too.

Sewornu was stumped. He knew annihilation about any investigations into a affected embassy. He approved to acquisition out which admiral had been involved, but the badge assemblage accustomed by the Americans, the Ghana Detectives Bureau, didn’t exist. Ghana’s civic Swat unit, the CID and the Bureau of Civic Analysis all told Sewornu that they weren’t circuitous either.

It didn’t accomplish any sense. The absolute adventure seemed to be based on one source: the US accompaniment administration website. And their antecedent was the US admiral in Accra. “So I declared the American admiral to acquisition out, and my acquaintance said: ‘I don’t apperceive annihilation about it,’” said Sewornu. “It was like they were tightlipped over the matter.”

In Ghana, it can be acutely difficult to access visas for biking to added countries. The appliance processes tend to be expensive, time-consuming and usually end in disappointment. As a result, over the accomplished two decades, a advancing underground abridgement has sprung up in Accra. It ranges from low-level conmen who can aftermath affected paperwork to adult bent organisations that accomplish in assorted countries. In 2016, of all the American embassies in the world, the one in Ghana had the accomplished cardinal of awaiting artifice cases, according to a US accompaniment administration report.

The operators and middlemen who advice avoid the acceptance appliance processes are so all-over that few bodies realise that what they do is illegal, Sewornu told me. “Some are actual bold, they acquaint visas on TV,” he said. “Plenty accept burst victim. They anticipate it’s accurate already it’s on TV.”

Sewornu has been a policeman for 23 years, and as we spoke, he was austere and aloof – but aback he talked about decidedly adventurous crimes, he started grinning. “I’ve absent calculation of the musicians,” he said. “A lot of them are into acceptance fraud. They go on bout and booty bodies who can’t alike perform. They aloof comedy CDs and lipsync.” Then, those bodies vanish.

In the past, he said, passports were easier to alter with. Fraudsters would abduct a absolute authorization acceptance to a well-travelled actuality with accurate visas and alter the account with one of a advantageous client. The archetypal adjustment was to put the authorization in a freezer for about an hour, which acquired the blur on the photo folio to bark away. Then, said Sewornu, the scammers could “clean off the aboriginal account with actinic eraser, and put in a new one, printed on a thin, about cellophane film.”

Now that passports accommodate biometric data, such as fingerprints, it is acceptable harder and harder to get abroad with this affectionate of crime. “You can’t affected aggregate 100%,” said Sewornu. Instead, the underground abridgement has started to focus on appearance the abstracts appropriate for accepted acceptance applications, both for abbreviate visits and for bodies who appetite to emigrate. For the appropriate fee, you can get authority of academy certificates that about-face you from an unskilled artisan to a PhD, or coffer annal that about-face you from a shoeshine boy into a acknowledged entrepreneur. Of course, scammers do still action affected visas, but best of these are not absolutely advised to get the abettor accomplished bound ascendancy in added countries. Instead, they’re meant to accomplish it attending – to embassies – like you’ve travelled extensively, and alternate to Ghana anniversary time. As if you are the affectionate of actuality who has no ambition of acceptable an actionable immigrant.

In 2010, as the cardinal of affected biking abstracts connected to rise, Ghana’s government founded the Certificate Artifice Expertise Centre, which verifies abstracts for embassies, banks and the police. It’s the alone one in west Africa, which reflects the arduous calibration of Ghana’s adumbration acceptance industry. In 2016, about bisected the abstracts submitted to them for testing angry out to accept been forged.

For centuries, Ghana was a allurement for immigrants, not a country bodies were aggravating to leave. The country’s citizenry of about 28 actor is fabricated up of about a dozen indigenous groups, best of which trace their origins to added genitalia of west Africa. In 1957, afterwards Ghana won ability from Britain, the country’s aboriginal president, Kwame Nkrumah, boarded on a massive basement programme. All that basement bare bodies to body it, and partly as a result, by 1960, immigrants fabricated up 12% of Ghana’s population. By comparison, beneath than 4% of the citizenry of England and Wales had been built-in abroad.

In 1966, Nkrumah was deposed in a aggressive coup. The country was destabilised and bodies started to leave about immediately. Over the abutting three decades, abundant of the abridgement collapsed, unemployment soared and millions of Ghanaians larboard in chase of work.

Today, Ghana is one of the best abiding and affluent countries in west Africa. But while the citizenry is expanding, the abridgement is not. Anniversary year, 250,000 adolescent bodies attack for aloof 5,000 new jobs. Lack of affairs drives abounding adolescent bodies abroad. Of the Ghanaian-born citizens currently active abroad, 70% are in added west African countries. Of the actual 30%, best alive and assignment in the UK, Germany, Italy, Canada and the US.

A small, but cogent cardinal of Ghanaians artlessly biking to these countries on day-tripper visas, afresh break on aback their visas run out and assignment illegally. So wealthier countries now accept that best Ghanaians who administer for acting visas will become actionable immigrants. Acceptance behavior accept been advised to clarify out the adolescent and unskilled and the poor, says Paolo Gaibazzi, a analysis adolescent at the Zentrum Moderner Orient in Germany. Such behavior sometimes additionally exclude bodies who are altogether able and would be accepted visas if they were advancing from wealthier countries. In one case not connected ago, a Ghanaian adviser orthopaedic surgeon with two decades of acquaintance was abashed to accept his appliance alone for a concise acceptance to appear a medical arrangement in Spain.

Even with legitimate, able help, bushing out the appliance anatomy for a US day-tripper acceptance is a maddeningly difficult and cruel process. Applicants accept to accommodate their parents’ dates of birth, but Ghana had no complete annals of births until 1965, so a lot of bodies aloof don’t know. Afresh there’s the fee: about $160, which amounts to about 75% of Ghana’s boilerplate account wage. That fee is non-refundable. If you are rejected, and you appetite to administer again, you will accept to pay addition $160.

Once you accept done the paperwork and paid, you still don’t get your visa. You aloof get to book a acceptance account at the US embassy. Able-bodied afore aurora on best weekdays, there is a ample army of bodies alfresco the admiral in Accra cat-and-mouse to go in. “Applicants generally waited alfresco the admiral admixture for continued periods, presenting a poor angel of the US government and causing a aegis issue,” according to a 2017 US accompaniment administration report.

Once you get to your appointment, you charge aftermath affidavit that you are who you say you are. Afresh it gets harder: beneath than 10% of bodies in Ghana accept a salaried job, but abounding applicants accept to present a letter of addition and a payslip from their employer. You will additionally charge a letter of allurement from addition in the US who can vouch for you. Got all that? Congratulations. You can still be alone on the spot, with no explanation.

People in countries such as Ghana are faced with a simple choice: administer over and over afresh and absorb huge sums of money anniversary time, or pay addition who promises to get you that visa. Anniversary time a new con is discovered, the embassies agitation and add addition band of analysis to their acceptance appliance processes. Anniversary band of analysis gives the fraudsters an added hurdle – but additionally creates added business. “People try to akin the arena field. This is area the clearing industry bliss in,” said Gaibazzi. “The exclusion from acknowledged bureau of brief creates declared illegality.”

Kwesi Abrantie is one of the accoutrements of Ghanaians who accept advisedly paid for affected abstracts to pad out a acceptance application. In 2008, as the country was activity through an bread-and-butter downturn, Abrantie’s business – signing bodies up for administration courses – began to falter. “Things were accepting absolutely bad here,” he said. “I anticipation active in the US would be way bigger than activity through this hand-to-mouth affair in Ghana.” A little artifice was a baby amount to pay if it meant he could accelerate home abundant money to accumulate a roof over his family’s heads. The catchy allotment was accepting to the US.

Without abundant money, Abrantie (who asked that his name be changed) stood about no adventitious of accepting a US visa. He went to see the forgers, and they awash him a story. “I was activity to attend, in quotes, a cousin’s graduation,” Abrantie said. The “connection men” – as the middlemen who access visas through arguable bureau are accepted in Ghana – paid a apprentice in New York to vouch for him. They gave Abrantie the student’s name and address, as able-bodied a absolute letter from the university advertence that he was arrive to the ceremony. It amount him 7,000 Ghanaian cedi up front, with addition 5,000 if he was acknowledged – a absolute of about £2,000, or alert Ghana’s anniversary per capita income.

The men Abrantie met abounding out his form, paid his fees and went with him to the embassy. The arrangement didn’t work. “Unfortunately, I was bounced,” he said. Afterwards the interview, Abrantie was handed a allotment of cardboard answer why his acceptance may accept been rejected. He got the consequence the Americans didn’t anticipate he had abundant money to pay his way in the US.

Abrantie still basic a acceptance – or his money back. So the agents anesthetized him on to some accompany of endemic who specialised in accepting Dutch visas. This time, he would affectation as a salesman at a barter company, branch to Holland to buy tyres. (The aggregation was real, Abrantie said.) Abrantie said the affiliation man he was ambidextrous with ran a accepted biking bureau with a amusement in acceptance fraud. He begin out about the close because three added accompany had auspiciously gone abroad with their help.

Once again, the agents abounding in his forms and bedlam out his application, this time with a affected coffer statement, Abrantie told me. And this time, the Dutch anticipation Abrantie had too abundant money in the bank. At the interview, they asked him area it had all appear from. Abrantie said commodity bizarre about actuality a businessman, and it seemed as if he had been bounced again. But his affiliation man, who had ahead run a business that alien appurtenances from Holland, declared a acquaintance at the admiral and accepted to apperceive why his abettor was actuality denied a visa. Shortly afterwards, his acceptance was granted. (When I asked the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs about this incident, it said: “There are austere guidelines if addition wants to administer for a short-stay Schengen acceptance in Ghana. Connections with businessmen accept annihilation to do with that.”)

Abrantie was packing his accoutrements aback his accompany acicular out that he didn’t allege a chat of Dutch, and wouldn’t accept abundant time to get his bearings, acquisition a job and amount out if he could survive as an actionable immigrant afore his absolute acceptance ran out. He absitively to booty his affairs active in Ghana instead.

The men Abrantie paid had no absolute office. He met them in restaurants and out in the street. They absolutely didn’t accept an absolute affected embassy, complete with flags and presidential portraits. The adventure seemed so amazing that one day in aboriginal June, I absitively to go in chase of this affected embassy, which the US accompaniment administration claimed had operated from a abode in an old neighbourhood north-west of axial Accra.

The blush abode sits on a broken-down street, allotment industrial, allotment residential, disregarded by a ample shoe factory. There are mechanics’ shops, stalls affairs added genitalia and a huge, arenaceous football field. The abode itself is august but decrepit, the walls covered with a layered analysis of achromatic acrylic and cement. In the house’s advanced yard, there is a baby tailor’s shop. (According to the US accompaniment administration story, a dress boutique abreast the affected admiral was one of the fronts for the operation: “It was declared to abode an automated bed-making apparatus they would use to re-create the bounden on the affected passports.”)

When I visited, I begin a man declared Pierre Kwetey, who was acid a arrangement out of azure and chicken wax book fabric. He was abacus an ever-widening alternation of book curve to a shirt for a man who was so big that “you’d anticipate he’s pregnant”. Kwetey’s boutique is beneath than two metres beyond at its widest point. The walls are yellow, with coffer seams of dust in the asperous cement. Aloft the acid table, there’s a crucifix draped with two rosaries.

Kwetey aboriginal saw the affected admiral adventure aback addition beatific him a articulation via WhatsApp. He was absolutely baffled. “If I’m accomplishing such actionable business, you’ll see my Range Rover anchored in front,” he joked.

A few canicule later, aback I alternate to the blush house, I came beyond one of the building’s owners, Susana Lamptey. Sitting in the baby courtyard in front, Lamptey was cutting a chicken dress and a headscarf, and looked alike beneath like a abomination arbiter than Kwetey. Her grandfathering had congenital the abode connected afore she was born, she said, apparently in the 1920s or 1930s. Aback he died, he larboard it to his eight children. Best of them confused abroad and cut their portions of the abode into flats, which they hire out.

In the access hall, there were no portraits of US presidents. Instead, it smelled comfortingly of abrade and margarine – Lamptey runs an amphitheater bakery in the aback yard. The blow of the backyard is a coil of abrasion curve and asperous cement. From the added floor, you can see bright beyond Accra’s automated area: flyovers, abuse yards, factories, and the acid Odaw river.

When the Americans appear that her abode was a affected US embassy, Lamptey was one of the aftermost to apprehend about it. A acquaintance declared to say it was all over the internet, she said. “I was absolutely annoyed. Because how? And from where?”

Lamptey said there had never been a badge raid. Instead, afterwards the adventure broke, she and the ancestors marched bottomward to the bounded badge base to acquisition out whether they were absolutely beneath investigation. The cops told them there was annihilation to anguish about.

In the canicule afterwards the adventure was appear – and in the afterward months – Lamptey was bedeviled by journalists, all allurement the aforementioned questions about her declared activity of crime. She has denied everything, every distinct time. In acknowledgment to her denials, the US admiral angled bottomward on its story. “We cannot brainstorm at this time what has occurred at that architecture afterwards the antecedent raid,” the US columnist attache told Ghanaian reporters in December 2016. “The photo acclimated in the online commodity is of the architecture the bent action acclimated to conduct their artifice operations.”

When we met, Lamptey still couldn’t accept why anyone had believed the story. Attending at this place, she said. “If there was an American admiral for 10 years in this house, by now everybody would be in America!” As it happened, Lamptey had activated for an American acceptance – a absolute one, at the absolute US embassy, in the bounce of 2016. She was rejected.

Lloyd Baidoo, a detective in Accra’s bounded badge force, said he was the one who took the photo of Lamptey’s house. In person, Baidoo looks like the archetypal film-noir cop: chiselled, able-bodied and world-weary. He’s been on the force for 18 years. The active allowance of his flat, in the western suburbs of Accra, was covered in huge pictures from his wedding. A football bout was on TV, on mute.

Baidoo aboriginal heard about the affected admiral in June 2016, months afore the Americans put out their story, aback his aggregation got a tip about a visa-fraud ring. Addition was allegedly arising US visas out of an old blush abode in Adabraka on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Aback it was open, they flew an American banderole and afraid up a account of Obama.

Baidoo and addition administrator went to analysis it out. They collection accomplished the blush abode a few times, and Baidoo took some pictures. He couldn’t see annihilation suspicious, so he absolved about the aback of house, in apparent clothes, to accept a afterpiece look. Wandering about the briefing property, Baidoo bound realised cipher would buy a $6,000 acceptance there. “I did not booty bristles account to achieve that,” he said.

Later that week, Baidoo got a added tip. Addition operation in Adabraka was arising US visas. This time, there were added details: it was allegedly run from the accommodation of a man declared Kyere Boakye, who answerable 2,000 Ghana cedi (about £350) for his services. This time, the advice seemed to analysis out. Baidoo absitively to arrest the property.

Just afore dusk, in backward June 2016, a Ghanaian Swat team, bristles detectives, and a adept aegis administrator from the US admiral swooped in on the apartment. Inside, admiral begin 135 Ghanaian passports. The majority would about-face out to be counterfeit. There were added passports too, mostly from added African countries. Some appeared to be real, but ability accept been baseborn or bought on the atramentous market. The passports absolute visas for, amid added countries, the US, the UK, South Africa, China, Kenya and Iran.

Detectives additionally begin two dozen affected elastic stamps, acclimated to endorse the official belletrist for acceptance applications. There were stamps purporting to be from the Ghana Clearing Service, Barclays bank, the Civic Investment Bank, several non-existent doctors and alike a close of attorneys with offices beneath the apartment. Three men were arrested in the raid: Kyere Boakye, Benjamin Ofosu Barimah and Jeffery Kofi Opare. All three were answerable with bogus and control of artificial documents. It was a ages afore they fabricated bail.

It wasn’t a affected embassy, but it was a aloft case. Baidoo wrote to the authorization office, banks, businesses, government departments, and alike the country’s better teaching hospital – 45 institutions in all – in adjustment to affirm whether or not anniversary of the suspicious-looking abstracts was fake. By the time Baidoo was done, two months afterwards the raid, the badge calendar was the admeasurement of three buzz books, and the case was accessible to go to trial.

Then, in December 2016, the US accompaniment administration put out its adventure about the analysis of a affected embassy. Dep Supt Sewornu took over the case, and Baidoo was confused on to a altered badge department. (Sewornu, too, was anon transferred.) Since then, the case has gone nowhere, accepting been delayed abundantly for blah authoritative reasons. Aback I went to a audition for the case in June, the three defendants were there, but their advocate wasn’t. Neither was the prosecutor. The attorneys was about empty. It didn’t attending like a case that had fabricated account about the world. Afterwards some blubbering amid the adjudicator and addition prosecutor, the audition was adjourned.

Outside the courtroom, Kyere Boakye told me he had no abstraction why he kept actuality hauled into court. He didn’t anticipate there was activity to be a trial. Boakye insisted that he was aloof an accustomed biking agent. “It’s my audience who brought every cardboard they begin [in the raid],” he said. “I accept never artificial anything.”

As for the abstraction that he had been active a affected US embassy, he insisted it was ridiculous. Despite the case actuality all over the papers, and all over the internet, there was not a distinct attestant to aback up the story.

When Detective Baidoo assuredly got to the basal of the affected admiral story, he was perplexed. Sitting calm in his flat, we looked over the US accompaniment department’s story. About every detail in it came from the adulterated intelligence Baidoo’s assemblage had accustomed in June 2016. The photo of the blush abode – the one that had brought the world’s media to Susana Lamptey’s doorstep – was, he insisted, one he had taken himself aback surveilling the building.

Another photo that appeared in the aboriginal US accompaniment administration adventure had showed a abundance of passports broadcast on the ground. That one, Baidoo said, had appear from his arrest on Kyere Boakye’s apartment, not from a arrest on any affected embassy. In the top-left bend of the photo, you could see allotment of a beach trainer, which, Baidoo said, belonged to him. “I was the one continuing there,” Baidoo said, activity out into his alley to appearance me the shoe in question. “In my absolute opinion, I’d say the adventure was fake.”

Sewornu was appropriately abiding that there was no story. He said that his contacts at the US admiral told him addition at the accompaniment administration had taken the adulterated intelligence and “kind of affiliated the story” with capacity of Baidoo’s raid. The two cases had been alloyed into one. It ability accept started with a adept cable – a classified announcement – beatific from the US admiral in Accra to the accompaniment administration in Washington DC on 25 July 2016, blue-blooded “Ghana: Affected US Admiral Closed for Business.”

When I asked the US accompaniment administration for comment, an official artlessly told me that US Adept Aegis Service admiral assignment with Ghanaian authorities to advocate the candor of the acceptance system. The accompaniment administration beneath to accommodate added advice in acknowledgment to specific questions. They referred all queries to the government of Ghana. Ghana’s Bureau of Civic Aegis and Ministry of the Interior did not acknowledge to dozens of letters, emails and calls requesting comment.

As it can booty weeks or months for an admiral to analysis whether a certificate submitted by a acceptance appellant is real, best embassies do not attack to verify everything. Instead, anybody puts on a show. Embassies overzealously scrutinise a scattering of applications. Ghana’s badge shut bottomward what scams they can. Reporters book amazing pieces. Foreign governments, adverse accretion burden to absolute immigration, add anytime college hurdles for accepted applicants to clear. Anybody gets to say they’re accomplishing something.

But the harder it is for accustomed bodies to administer for visas successfully, the greater the appeal for fraud. While the Americans accept been authoritative a appearance of shutting bottomward a non-existent affected embassy, it’s boom-time for Accra’s visa-fraud industry.

One day this summer, I chock-full by the leafy, flush Cantonments neighbourhood of Accra. There, hidden in apparent sight, is a one-stop boutique for acceptance artifice – one of dozens of such places that are broadcast beyond the city. The fraudsters at the appointment I visited use a Microsoft Chat arrangement to agitate out affected belletrist from dozens of altered employers. A apprentice acceptance application, complete with all the abstracts you’ll need, will amount you 1,000 cedi (£175).

One of the men active the abode told me that bodies bare advice jumping through all the hoops. As he spoke, barter best up their paperwork and headed off to accumulate their accessories at the huge blah circuitous in the distance, advance over 12.5 acreage of prime Accra absolute estate.

On the horizon, aloft the embassy, the American banderole was flying.

Support for this commodity was provided by a admission from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

• Follow the Connected Apprehend on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or assurance up to the connected apprehend account email here.

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