Fictional state to end fake degrees

June 9, 2006

Forty years ago, a small town in Northern Italy proclaimed itself the Principality of Seborga with a past stretching back to the 11th century and an elected ruler in the shape of Prince Giorgio I.

The aim was to boost the town's tourist revenue through occasional medieval pageants, postage stamps and a novelty currency - the luigino - that could be exchanged in the town's restaurants and gift shops.

But an unwelcome side-effect has been Seborga's unenviable reputation as the accrediting authority for a number of degree mills and other unrecognised "universities" operating on the web.

Mayor Franco Fogliarini wants this to stop. "We never seriously claimed independence from Italy. And there is nothing true in these accreditations - in fact, we want to put an end to this nonsense. We are discussing what steps to take.

"The Seborga Council for Distance Education, Culture and Faith, (cited as the accrediting body by a number of institutions) does not exist."

The mayor said the problems started when Denis Pierre-Francois, who claims the title of Baron de Gueniffet, was appointed director of tourism in the 1990s. He set up a website describing Seborga's constitution and system of government and advertising the local restaurants and boutiques. By 2002, the real local authority decided the behaviour of the self-styled baron was getting out of hand and sacked him.

More than 20 institutions are accredited in Seborga. The most recent is the diUlius Institute and University, which is also registered in New Mexico and has an office address in Washington DC.

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