Police officers duped into paying for bogus exams

September 29, 2006

An Italian sociology professor has been accused of swindling about 1,000 Italian police officers out of fees for a bogus course to acquire credits for a university degree.

A year ago, Italy's Union of Police Officers and the University of Chieti-Pescara set up a degree course for policemen. The course counted the work experience of those with the rank of inspector and superintendent as worth 84 of the 180 credits needed for a three-year undergraduate degree.

Those who joined the course and paid their fee to the university received an e-mail from a "sociology professor of international renown" requesting a further €120 (£80), to be paid into another account, for an "intensive course" to earn credits more quickly.

Communications arrived on paper with the Chieti-Pescara letterhead, and the police officers duly assembled at a hotel on the outskirts of Rome, where the professor lectured and held exams.

When the officers took other exams at the university, they discovered that it had no knowledge of the intensive course and its credits, and that the professor belonged to another institution - the nearby University of Teramo.

Franco Cuccurullo, rector of Chieti-Pescara, said the university had made a formal complaint to the judiciary against "person or persons unknown" for fraud and damage to the university's image, as well as for "criminal use of its notepaper".

The professor involved denied any fraud and told The Times Higher that it was a misunderstanding. He asserted that he had an agreement with the police officers' union to run a course to help with the degree. He added that his lawyers were taking steps to safeguard his reputation.

Italy's lawyers are likely to be the only winners as the country's notoriously slow law courts will take many years to untangle the truth.

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