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All States have laws

All states have laws envisaging strict punishment for fake degree sellers

Sabir Shah

 As Pakistan’s name is again flashing headlines in international media for wrong reasons at an inappropriate time due to the alleged involvement of a Karachi-based information technology company in a multi-million dollar phony degrees scam, a team of the Federal Investigation Agency’s cyber crime unit and a concerned Senate committee have already initiated a probe.

Warning bells have thus started ringing yet again for private sector and government departments, both within and outside Pakistan, to ‘hunt out’ those employees who may have falsified on their resumes to attain jobs or to ‘weed out’ the cheats operating in their vicinity.

Many of these swindlers might be having a genuine Bachelor’s degrees, but a fake online Master’s Degree and many might have won them out-of-turn promotions by now!The government’s prompt initiative to probe the affairs of Messrs Axact is certainly a heartening sign because a couple of years ago, the country’s legislative houses were found to be plagued with the presence of “ghost graduates,” who had continued to occupy the assembly desks with minimal guilt.

However, the courts had disqualified numerous legislators with fake educational testimonials. Just to recall, soon after the May 11, 2013 polls, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) had received over 100 allegedly fake degrees for verification belonging to legislators from the National and provincial assemblies.

These degrees had either been challenged in tribunals or had been referred to the HEC by the Election Commission of Pakistan. But, the Pakistani political parties may not just be the only arenas infected by the crooks with bogus degrees in pockets.

History of diploma mills and the United States:

Diploma mills, or businesses that make a profit by posing as a legitimate college, university or school, have a history that reaches back into the 19th century.

An exclusive research conducted by the “Jang Group and Geo Television Network,” by seeking help from David Wood Stewart and Henry Spille’s widely-recommended book “Diploma Mills: Degrees of fraud” reveals that a prestigious American newspaper “The New York Times” was the first to shed light on the bogus diploma business way back in 1872.

In 1900, American government officers had raided the Chicago-based “Metropolitan Medical College” and had arrested its officials for mail fraud. The college allegedly sold degrees to practice medicine and law and the prices ranged from three to two hundred dollars.

Between 1980 and 1991, the American FBI, the General Accounting Office and the Committee on Education and the Workforce had jointly carried out the Operation Dipscam (Operation Diploma Scam).

 This operation had led to more than 20 convictions, execution of 16 federal search warrants and the closing of 39 diploma mills, selling degrees in criminal justice, divinity, education, psychology, nursing- and even ethics.

 The FBI had identified over 12,500 “graduates” of these institutions from school records, which included federal, state and county employees.

 But this operation did not fully close down the degree mills, which have been defined as unaccredited higher education institutions that offer illegitimate academic degrees and diplomas for a fee. By 2003, more than 400 diploma mills and 300 counterfeit diploma Web sites had existed in the United States.

 The September 29, 2003 edition of an esteemed American publication “USA Today” had stated: “There are more than 400 diploma mills and 300 counterfeit diploma Web sites, and business is thriving amid a lackluster economy – doubling in the past five years to more than $500 million annually. Some fake schools in Europe have made as much as $50 million a year and have as many as 15,000 “graduates” a year. The number of fake accrediting organizations set up by con artists to provide diploma mills an air of legitimacy has swelled from half a dozen 10 years ago to 260 in 2003.”

 It was in May 2004 that the US Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs had conducted hearings to determine whether the federal government had paid for, or governmental officials possessed, degrees from unaccredited schools.

 Investigations showed that 463 federal employees were discovered to have been enrolled in the three schools at the time of the inquiry. The Department of Defence had the highest number of enrollees, with 257 employees registered.

 In one of its 2004 editions, the “USA Today” had come out with a story that exposed 28 senior-level government officials with fake degrees from diploma mills. It was found out in a probe that at least $170,000 in taxpayer money was used on tuition payments to two unaccredited schools.

 In 2005, in an effort to fight diploma mills, the US Department of Education had launched a searchable online database that remains viable today. It includes the names, addresses and enrollment of all schools accredited by organisations recognised by the federal government.

 In 2005, the US Department of Education had endeavoured to combat the spread of fraudulent degrees and a number of states have passed bills restricting the ability of organisations to award degrees without accreditation.

 Almost 10,000 people had been blacklisted by the US Department of Justice by mid of 2009 for purchasing fake high school and college degrees from a “degree mill” based in Washington.

 Moreover, nearly a dozen teachers, counselors and principals in the US state of Georgia were investigated for purchasing fake advanced degrees from an unaccredited online university in Liberia that grants master’s and doctorate degrees.

 US Diploma mills and terrorismIt is imperative to note that on December 15, 2005, CNN had aired a report on diploma mills and terrorism.

 The report explained that “H-1B visas could be issued to anyone who was highly skilled and could seek a job in the United States.The CNN had viewed that a phony advanced degree could be the first step for someone in a terrorist sleeper cell!

 In 2011, Tri-Valley University, an unaccredited US school, was raided by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement for operating as a front for illegal immigration.In July 2011, another unaccredited school “University of Northern Virginia” was raided by the American Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department.

In August 2012, yet another unaccredited US school “Herguan University” was served with a notice of intent to withdraw its official certification and its CEO was indicted on visa fraud charges.

US Diploma mills and money-laundering

Quite recently in December 2014, two college officials (John and Adale Ceroni) in the United States had pleaded guilty to money laundering. The husband and wife were operating a diploma mill by the name of “Carnegie College,” which lured and recruited students who did not have high school diplomas.

The couple was found guilty of obtaining 140 fake diplomas from “online high schools” that neither provided any instruction to the Carnegie College students nor did they require them to attend classes.

In-depth study shows that a former Iranian Interior Minister Ali Kordan, a former Swedish minister for employment Sven-Otto Littorin, noted British politician and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Jeffrey Howard Archer, an eminent Greek political figure Kostas Margaritis and a Lebanese parliamentarian Antoine Zahra etc have paid a heavy price in the past for forging their educational qualifications.

Interestingly, the Swedish Minister for Employment, Sven-Otto Littorin, was discovered in 2007 to have using an MBA degree from a diploma mill “Fairfax University.”

Though aware that claiming an MBA from this diploma mill would be illegal in many states in the USA, Littorin tried to convince the Swedish media and people of the legitimacy of his qualification. He was eventually forced to remove the reference from his official CV, but he had somehow managed to remain in office.

Newspaper archives tell that former Iranian interior minister Ali Kordan was also disgraced by the menace of buying degrees from online diploma mills.

He was later impeached by the Iranian parliament in November 2008 for allegedly lying about his credentials.

Kordan had claimed to have obtained an honorary doctorate degree in law from the Oxford University, but a probe had found him guilty of acting fraudulently

As far as British politician and author Jeffrey Howard Archer is concerned, he was accused of buying a fake diploma from a US institution to get admission at the Oxford University.

Archer, a member of parliament and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, was made a Life Peer in 1992 by the Queen of England.

Nigerian politician and a former governor, Dr Andy Uba, is another one in the list with disputed academic credentials. He had claimed to have graduated from the Buxton University in UK, yet another institution which had turned out to be an unaccredited diploma mill.

These above-named international politicians had mainly suffered because their countries had long been intolerant on this count.

Other eminent international personalities who are known to have pleaded guilty of acquiring fake educational degrees include British science fiction writer Ron Hubbard, former Senior Director at the US Department of Homeland Security Laura Callahan, former member of Canadian Parliament Jag Bhaduria, Toronto Stock Exchange’s former Vice President Terry Popowich, famous international football coach George O’Leary, Ireland’s Government Science Adviser Barry McSweeney and noted South Korean movie star Jang Mi-hee, who later became a theatre and visual arts professor at a prestigious college in her country on basis of forged documents.

All these afore-named personalities had to relinquish their posts after they were found culpable.

Former Indian Premier Indira Gandhi’s grandson and late Sanjay Gandhi’s son Varun Gandhi was also accused of possessing a fake degree.

According to the January 10, 2013 issue of “The Times of India” and April 7, 2009 edition of the “India Today,” the Indian Higher Education Department has recently announced in January 2013 that it would seek a probe into the havoc played by the fake degree certificate racket in world’s largest democracy, former Premier Indira Gandhi’s grandson and late Sanjay Gandhi’s son, Varun Gandhi, is still fighting his detractors on many fronts, and a particularly vexing issue it seems is the storm over his allegedly fake foreign degrees from the London School of Economics and London School of Oriental and African Studies.

The “India Today” had also stated in its afore-cited edition: “In an attempt to set the record straight,

Varun Gandhi has trashed the fake-degree accusations as baseless.”

A few years ago, the Bombay High Court had gone on to order the country’s powerful Central Bureau of Investigation in February 2010 to launch an investigation into the matter and curb this menace forthwith.

The Bombay High Court order had come against the backdrop of a revelation that as many as 729 cases of fake degrees/certificates had been identified in the prestigious University of Pune by March 2, 2010 and another 237 phony degrees were spotted by the Mumbai University earlier this year.

Faced with a rather arduous task to probe into the matter of fake documents submitted by candidates for recruitment, the Indian investigators are still meeting university officials to get closer to the culprits involved, which is a huge headache for the revered Indian universities at the moment. Consequently, people who falsely used these degrees were criminally charged.

By June 2009, more than 180 people from across the Gulf had been blacklisted for holding fake US academic certificates allegedly bought from non-accredited institutions, including 69 from Saudi Arabia and 68 from the UAE.

In the United Arab Emirates, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has been screening degrees provided by job applicants seeking working visas for the region for a few years now.

 In Australia, it is a criminal offence to call an institution a university or issue a university degree without authorisation through an act of federal or state parliaments.

 Under the Australian Higher Education Support Act 2003, corporations wishing to use the term “university” require approval from the minister for education in Canberra.

 Australia thus places strict control on corporations wishing to use the term “university” and the name must not imply a connection with an existing university. The Corporations Regulations 2001 hence lists only 39 academic organizations, which are permitted to use the title “university.”

 Specific penalties covered by the provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974, permitting fines in excess of Australian $10 million.

 In Finland, for the purposes of professional qualification, the use of foreign degree qualifications is regulated. It goes without saying that forging degrees is a felony in Finland too.

In Germany, it is a criminal offence to call an institution a university or issue academic degrees without the authorisation from the respective state’s ministry of education. It is also a crime to falsely claim a degree in Germany, if it does not meet accredited approval.

In Hong Kong’s case, anyone found using false documents with the intention of inducing somebody to accept the same as genuine, is liable for 14 years imprisonment. The HK law outlines that anyone who makes or possesses machines that create false documents is also liable for 14-year jail term.

 In September 2005, a Hong Kong woman was sentenced to 12 months for using fake degrees to secure employment. At a hearing in the Hong Kong District Court, the Police Commercial Crime Bureau had pressed the charges that the woman had used phony degree certificates obtained from two unaccredited universities in Singapore and one in the United States.

 In Malaysia, it is an offence under the Education Act 1996 to establish and operate a higher educational institution by the use of the word “university,” except in accordance with any written law.

The Malaysian law prescribes a fine of 50,000 Ringgits or an imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or even both if a bogus institution is set up.

Apart from the penalties prescribed by the Act above, under the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, anybody found guilty of promoting any activities for the purpose of establishing a university or college, unless it is being done in accordance with the provisions of this Act, may be fined 10,000 Ringgits or imprisoned for a term of five years.

In New Zealand, the Kiwi authorities announced their intention to take action against unaccredited schools in 2004.

Consequently, the “University of Newlands,” an unaccredited distance-learning provider based in Wellington, was challenged, along with a few others.

In Philippines, the falsification of medical certificates, certificates of merit or service is a criminal act. The law penalises the maker or the manufacturer of such certificates, specifically a physician or surgeon in connection with the practice of his profession and a public official. It also penalises the one who procures and knowingly uses such false certificate.

In Portugal, there has been a growing effort since the year 2000 to define non-accredited universities or accredited institutions and to raise awareness about the problem. In 1999 alone, over 15,000 students enrolled in Portuguese higher learning institutions were found possessing bogus degrees.

Since 2007, Portugal has enforced more inflexible rules for all kind of public and private degree-conferring institutions.

In Romania, various universities have been listed as diploma mills. Although these universities received accreditation from Romania’s National Council of Academic Evaluation in 2002, their accreditations were cancelled for a large number of specialisations after scams had surfaced.

In South Korea also, it is illegal to falsify educational qualification by presenting bogus degrees. In March 2006, prosecutors in Seoul were reported to have broken up a crime ring selling bogus music diplomas from Russia, which helped many get university jobs and seats in orchestras. People who falsely used these degrees were criminally charged.

It is for this very reason that in South Korea, where demand for English language teachers is on the rise, the authorities in Seoul have recently made it mandatory for candidates in US, UK and Canada etc to send their actual diplomas or an attested copy performed by the nearest South Korean consulate.

Early 2007, a South Korean university professor Shin Jeong-ah was criminally charged for forging and misusing a degree from the Yale University. The case had a far-reaching impact as she was a professor at the reputed Dongguk University and also held a position at an art gallery known to have ties with economical and political figures.

In Switzerland, it is a criminal offence, under the Unfair Competition Legislation, to use any unfounded academic or occupational qualifications. At least three notable diploma mills were identified in Switzerland, but law eventually took its course against them.

In United Kingdom, it is illegal to offer something that may be mistaken for a UK degree unless the awarding body is on a list maintained by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

This is difficult to enforce on the Internet, where a site may be based abroad. However, the UK Trading Standards officers have had notable success in countering a large diploma mill group based abroad that was using British place-names for its “universities.”

In 2010, a nursing student at the University of Bedfordshire in United Kingdom was sentenced to imprisonment for 15 months by court for presenting false educational documents and consequently defrauding the UK National Health Service of nearly 28,000 Pounds.

In Kenya, two years ago, some 46 members of the Nairobi City Council were terminated for possessing bogus degrees issued by the online diploma mills. Courtesy The News

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