Bosnia and Herzegovina Busts Fake Diplomas Ring

Published: 20 March 2024

Fake Diplomas PaperBosnian law enforcement busted a ring allegedly involved in issuing fake diplomas from a private university in the eastern Bosnian town of Goražde. (Photo: gadgetdude, Flickr, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

Police in Bosnia and Herzegovina arrested six people suspected of trafficking counterfeit university diplomas in cooperation with an Italian professor from Sicily who appears to be the mastermind of the scheme.

Operation “Index” targeted several individuals and business entities associated with private universities in Bosnia and Herzegovina believed to have been linked to Professor Salvatore Guiseppe Maria Messina.

This alleged scheme aimed at securing illicit financial gains has drawn attention to a widespread network of diploma fraud spanning multiple countries.

The suspects – Edina Brutus, Damir Žuga, Elma Brutus, Kaja Imširović, Hajriz Bećirović, and Mevludin Jašarević – are accused of unlawfully issuing diplomas from the International University in Goražde (IUG) across all three study cycles to individuals not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina but also in Italy, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Libya, Turkey, and beyond, according to the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

They were also believed to be involved in organized crime activities related to money laundering, as well as a range of other offenses including document forgery, fraud, bribery, and abuse of official position.

The Special Department for Organized Crime, Economic Crime, and Corruption has swiftly moved to propose detention for five of the apprehended suspects and a suspension of transactions from their bank accounts containing a total of more that 350,000 convertible marks (US$194,390).

Jašarević was banned from meeting with witnesses and leaving the country.

The State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) stated that the Monday arrests came after business premises and residences at 13 locations in Sarajevo, Zenica, Goražde, Travnik, and Konjic have been raided.

During the crackdown SIPA seized computers, stacks of documentation, university diplomas, student records, alongside 24,000 euro (US$26,074) and 20,000 convertible marks ($11,109) in cash.

The evidence gathered during the investigation, according to the Prosecutor’s Office, indicated that Edina Brutus and other members of the group were deeply embroiled in an illicit scheme, actively seeking out individuals keen on acquiring diplomas or buying them, all without the necessary approvals from authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Swiss Confederation, and Italy. Allegedly, they even organized classes in Switzerland and Italy for students from Italy.

Under Edina Brutus’ supervision, a systematic process reportedly unfolded, with retrospective enrollment of students’ data into registry books, falsification of exam results, forgery of professors’ signatures, and creation of student records for diploma buyers and foreign students.

The Prosecutor’s Office further stated that, despite being aware of the International University in Goražde’s lack of authorization to operate beyond its region, deans and rectors knowingly signed graduation certificates and diplomas for acquired higher education degrees.

“In most cases, monetary amounts were charged for these services or diplomas, equivalent to what students would normally pay for official tuition fees,” according to the Prosecutor’s Office.

One of the suspects, Kaja Imširević, served as the manager at European Education, Research, and Development in Zenica, a company founded by the offspring of the Italian professor Salvatore Guiseppe Maria Messina.

The entire operation is believed to be his brainchild. He particularly targeted Italian students in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as reported by the independent investigative magazine “Žurnal.”

The magazine claimed that last year the university had issued several dental medicine diplomas, despite not having a single student enrolled in such a program.

Back in 2016, a Croatian news outlet “Glas Slavonije” also reported on Professor Messina’s dubious activities, identifying him as the mastermind behind an international fraud scheme.

A pseudo-university was reportedly established in Switzerland in 2015, where, operating without regulations, statutes, premises, or any other customary academic standards, they engaged in what resembles diploma mill operations for profit. This scheme allegedly involved the Medical Faculty in the eastern Croatian city of Osijek and the Economics Faculty in the port city of Rijeka.

The media further alleged, citing retired professors from affected Croatian universities, that Messina is a member of the Sicilian mafia, previously convicted of various crimes, including fraud.

Professor Messina then responded through his lawyer in Croatia, demanding a retraction of the article.

“Professor Messina, PhD, is not a Sicilian mobster, nor has he been convicted of serious fraud and embezzlement in Palermo. He has not conducted fictitious educational programs or diverted funds to private accounts…” according to the lawyer’s letter.

However, in 2021, Messina's connection to the private university in Goražde became more apparent, as the local news outlet PalermoToday reported that “a Sicilian has taken charge of the University in Goražde,” further fueling speculation about his involvement in the illicit trade of fake diplomas.