Lebanon News

Jreissati collects evidence to prosecute those involved in cash-for-degrees scandal

BEIRUT: Caretaker Justice Minister Salim Jreissati said Thursday he may order the prosecution of all those involved in the alleged sale of fake university degrees once he receives all the available evidence from the Education Ministry.

Jreissati told The Daily Star Thursday he needed more evidence of the alleged forgery and details of the universities involved if he is to take “public action.”

In October, the Education Ministry’s Higher Education Council decided to fine three universities, as a judicial investigation was launched into allegations that the institutions were involved in cash-for-degrees schemes.

The American University of Culture and Education and the Lebanese French University each received warnings and a fine estimated at about $45,000. The council also fined Sidon University College roughly $90,000 in addition to calling for its charter to be revoked.

At the time, caretaker Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh said people were allegedly acquiring the counterfeit degrees so they could apply for state or military jobs.

In a letter addressed to Hamadeh published Thursday by the NNA, Jreissati asked to be provided with all the information on the issue so his ministry could follow up.

Under Article 14 of the Lebanese Code of Civil Procedure, the justice minister may ask the public prosecutor at the Court of Cassation to press charges for any offenses of which he has knowledge.

This is the action Jreissati intends to take if and when he receives the evidence he requested from the Education Ministry Thursday.

“We need those details to make our case file - without them we have no case,” he told The Daily Star.

“I expect [Hamadeh] already has the details we need, as he’s been carrying out investigations into the forgery of degree certificates.”

Jreissati also noted in his letter that for SUC to lose its license, Cabinet has to sign a decree. Cabinet, however, has been in caretaker status since May amid a monthslong government formation deadlock.

An Education Ministry spokesperson had previously told The Daily Star that if Cabinet approves the request, SUC would have to close down after all its currently enrolled students graduate.

The ministry will also follow up on Hamadeh’s recent announcement that university employees who were detained over the violations had been released.

The education minister had told Radio Liban Libre last Saturday that “the detainees from [LFU’s] Bekaa branch were released without any information as to why.”

A Lebanese Army spokesperson had told The Daily Star back in October that Army Intelligence had arrested several people, including people purchasing fake degrees and administrators, during its investigation.

During the radio interview, Hamadeh also revealed that LFU’s Bekaa branch and Sidon University College had been shut down, in addition to a number of other branches of the three suspected schools involved in the scandal, as the Education Ministry awaits the judicial investigation results.

The NNA reported Thursday evening Hamadeh had “provided the Public Prosecution in the south with the full documentation and certificates from Sidon University College,” and declared that he was prepared to “grant permission to prosecute anyone found to be involved in this fraud, whatever their rank in the ministry.”

Hamadeh also said he maintains “a firm stance on pursuing universities involved in any forgery of certificates.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 14, 2018, on page 2.

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