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Suspicions of mass fraud rock French universities

Prosecutors in Marseilles have launched an investigation into claims that hundreds of Chinese students bribed officials at a university in Toulon to obtain fake diplomas. Other French universities could be involved in the fraud.


French police are looking into an alleged trafficking scheme in which hundreds of Chinese students were fraudulently given French university diplomas. Police were apparently tipped off while investigating an assault on a Chinese student on the campus of the Institute of Business Administation (IAE), a part of the University of Toulon, in southeastern France.


The student was reportedly attacked after failing to pay her debts with an intermediary. A few weeks earlier, two Chinese students had filed a complaint at the local police station after discovering that some diplomas had been delivered fraudulently.


A diploma worth 2,700 euros


According to French daily Le Monde, the fraud began in the 2004-2005 academic year when a Chinese student, who was struggling to get his diploma, began offering bribes to one of the institute’s employees. The student was subsequently awarded his diploma.


The scheme was then extended to the student's friends. According to a source quoted by Le Monde, the fake diplomas cost around €2,700. Last year, one student alone sold close to 300 diplomas.


On April 9, the police searched the institute’s premises and seized exam papers written by Chinese students over the last four years.


The head of the institute reportedly told Le Monde that he had been approached by a Chinese student who offered him a €100,000 bribe in exchange for diplomas for about 60 of his fellow students.


Other universities involved


When informed of the police's suspicions last October, the Toulon university administration carried its own internal investigation. “We found some troubling details,” Pierre sanz de Alba, the university’s vice-president, told Le Monde. In the two-year entrepreneurship programme, 100% of the Chinese nationals graduated successfully, as opposed to 60 to 70 percent of the other students, including French ones.


According to the Marseilles prosecutor interviewed by AFP, the scheme may have existed in other French universities as well.Pau, La Rochelle, Poitiers and an establishment in the Paris region could be involved, says Le Monde.


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