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'Politicians' university' in 'fake' master's scam: Underqualified Italians registered to practise law
AN ONGOING saga of 'dodgy diplomas' affecting Madrid's Rey Juan Carlos University (URJC) has taken another, more sinister twist: hot on the heels of two MPs' resignations over master's degrees being awarded despite missing chunks of the mandatory curriculum, the Spanish media has uncovered as many as 500 cases of Italians being granted law degrees that may not be worth the paper they were written on.
The students are said to have had limited knowledge of the Spanish language, and one newspaper even claims that coachloads of students reportedly heading for campus to sit exams may have gone on to watch Real Madrid matches instead.
El Diario says the students, in response to 'enormous difficulties' in getting qualified as solicitors and registering with colleges of law to enable them to practise at home in Italy led to their travelling to Madrid to complete the process.
These 'difficulties' involved having to pay up to €18,000 to study a Master in Legal Sciences in Italy, which they could legally get around by taking a law master's in Spain, which would cost them around €9,000.
The aim would be to then have their Spanish degrees approved and stamped by the Italian ministry of education to enable them to practise.
According to the undisclosed sources cited in El Diario, the 500 or so students had already passed some modules towards an undergraduate Italian law degree, which would mean they would be able to transfer their credits to the URJC to complete their qualification in Madrid.
But instead, it is said that this incomplete study was automatically signed off by the URJC as being a full law degree, allowing them to continue their study onto master's level.
Their final master's degrees would be awarded by the URJC's now-defunct Faculty of Public Law.
Yet El Diario says the Italian students barely spoke Spanish and the various group trips they organised to Madrid to sit their exams all coincided with Champions' League matches at Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabéu stadium.
Inquiries began around nine months ago – long before Madrid's regional president Cristina Cifuentes was forced to resign after it would found her law master's had been awarded despite her possibly having been signed off modules she had not completed or been examined in – after a Moroccan national went to a Madrid foreigners' office, based at a National Police station, to apply for national ID or NIE numbers for a high number of Italians.
The same man and several other people applied for NIEs from the Spanish Consul in Italy.
This is not unusual, since lawyers or legal and financial advisors often file en bloc NIE applications for expatriates in Spain to avoid their having to queue individually.
But the ordinary investigations that went on in the background in order to award the NIEs, which every foreign resident in Spain has, indirectly led to the 'fake' law degree scam being uncovered, El Diario reports.
One of the exam sessions the Italians reportedly had to attend to acquire a master's after their law credits from home were logged as a full degree was at the end of May 2016, and came under scrutiny, the newspaper claims.
It turned out that the URJC only required them to sit one internal exam, on top of their incomplete undergraduate degrees from Italy, before awarding them a master's and then registering them with the College of Law, enabling them to work as solicitors anywhere in Europe.
Education legislation in Spain does not recognise any foreign qualifications other than a full undergraduate or post-graduate degree for 'conversion' purposes – an incomplete degree would need to be finished before being signed off as having a legitimate Spanish equivalent in order for the holder to practise any career that requires this.
The Italian students would have needed to complete an official, independent legal practice exam on top of their master's degrees to enable them to work as solicitors – but the El Diario report claims they have been able to get away with doing so on the back of their 'dubious' URJC diplomas.
And the sole exam they were 'required' to take may never have been taken at all.
Investigations are said to be at a 'very early stage' and nothing has been proven as yet, although the Faculty of Public Law has since shut down and its chairman, Enrique Álvarez Conde, is now under investigation.
Conde, now suspended from his role, came under fire when Cristina Cifuentes' case hit the headlines, and is also a key figure in the inquiry into national government-level PP leader Pablo Casado's own law master's.
Casado has refused to resign and says that even if 'criminal activity' is found to have been involved in the awarding of his qualification, it would now be statute-barred due to time having run out for prosecution.
Ex-chancellor of the Faculty of Public Law, Fernando Suárez, has also been accused of plagiarism, but says he is suffering from a smear campaign.
Health minister Carmen Montón, former head of Valencia's regional health authorities, resigned a week ago after it was found that of the approximately 31,000 words of her dissertation for her master's from the URJC, some 11,300 – or 19 pages out of 52 – were unreferenced works of other writers, with some paragraphs lifted from Wikipedia.
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