Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Turkish Cypriot University Scandal: Officials Arrested Over Diploma Fraud

Sat 24 Feb 2024 | 11:11 AM

In a significant operation aimed at curbing education sector corruption, Turkish Cypriot authorities have arrested three top officials from Kıbrıs Sağlık ve Toplum Bilimleri Üniversitesi (KSTU) and a high-ranking civil servant. The arrests are part of an extensive investigation into a fake diploma scheme that has reportedly generated millions in illicit revenue, primarily targeting students from the Middle East.

The accused individuals, including KSTU's Secretary-General Serdal Gündüz, Vice-Dean Serdal Işiktaş, and International Office Head Amir Shakira, face charges related to larceny, document forgery, and the distribution of forged documents. Civil servant Çelebi Ilık, implicated for using fraudulent qualifications to secure a promotion, is also among those detained.

During the court proceedings, police revealed that Ilık possessed counterfeit graduate and postgraduate diplomas from KSTU, one of which was dated the same day as his enrollment. The investigation further disclosed that Işıktaş, under Gündüz's directive, knowingly signed the fraudulent diploma, which Ilık later used to obtain a higher salary grade within his ministry.

The scandal has also led to the questioning of the university's former Education Minister and Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Kemal Dürüst, shedding light on the potential involvement of other high-profile figures.

With the higher education sector being a crucial economic driver in the Turkish Cypriot region, this scandal exposes the dark underbelly of an industry that has seen explosive growth over the past two decades. The region boasts 22 universities with a nominal student population of 107,000, many of whom are international students from diverse backgrounds.

This case also highlights broader issues within the sector, including human trafficking and smuggling facilitated by lax visa regulations and insufficient legal oversight. The U.S. State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report 2023 points to exploitation faced by students lured under false pretenses, ranging from labor exploitation to forced involvement in illicit activities.

Kudret Özersay, leader of the Turkish Cypriot People’s Party, has called for urgent action against entities masquerading as educational institutions to prevent illegal immigration. The north’s Human Rights Platform has also raised concerns about the education sector's ties to human trafficking, with Turkish Cypriot police investigating numerous cases related to student visas.

Amidst these revelations, the international community and local authorities are urging for comprehensive reforms to ensure the integrity of the higher education system and protect the rights and welfare of students in the Turkish Cypriot-administered areas.