‘Cartel’ of Sierra Leone officials ran passport scam for U.S. visas – anti-graft chief
18 Sep 2018

Corrupt Sierra Leonean officials have been selling fraudulent service and diplomatic passports for thousands of dollars to individuals hoping to use them to enter the United States, the country’s anti-corruption commissioner told Reuters.

Africa has a thriving black market for illegal passports, prompting the United States, Britain and others to tighten visa regulations for countries where the issue is most acute.

In Sierra Leone, a recent investigation uncovered a large network of bureaucrats selling passports for up to $7,000 (5,334.2 pounds) and assisting buyers to apply for US visas with them, said Commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala, who was appointed last June.

“We have evidence of high-ups at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Immigration Department participating, and neither agency has much, if any, control over it,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

“There have been many, many people to gain access to the US this way, with passports that were not proper. It’s systemic.”

Representatives of the foreign ministry and the immigration office declined to comment.

The investigation follows a request from the U.S. government in 2017 for the West African country to tighten its passport-issuing procedure after a higher-than-average number of Sierra Leoneans visiting the United States were found to be overstaying their visas.

On Monday, nine people were arrested by Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) officers assisted by US Embassy security and consular personnel for attempting to apply for visas with fraudulent service passports, which are meant to be used only by government employees for work-related travel.

– By Cooper Inveen, Reuters, 14 September 2018.

Link to Reuters.

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