A secret kingdom of forgers
Everyone can graduate in Albania, even in few hours. Suddenly you can appear with a diploma in political science, economy, law, and engineering in the branch of one’s request, natural sciences or philology, even medicine. It is like a black market, where it is enough to find the right guy and to get the goods you are looking for. There are hundreds of these graduated Albanians throughout the Balkans, in institutions and private companies, in all places for which these persons were interested. They present their diploma bearing the stamps and signatures from the University of Tirana or other Albanian universities. And, they work on places they desire, applying even in the public institutions, such as administration or police.
Near the “Road to Kavaja”
Everything seems simple. But where to find the falsified diploma? How can you get to some of the “masters”? I ask my source, and he tells me that he does not know anyone directly, but heard from some of his acquaintances that there is a man, with false name, around 37 years old, who can provide diploma resembling the original with signatures and stamps of any university you like. They say he is master and it is hard to recognize the documents made by his hand are forged.
I found out he had illegal office on “Road to Kavaja” street. I learned that in the centre of Tirana there is still work for this master, who supports the clients with falsified documents. But, except him, through the intermediaries in the same street you can contact other two forgers. My source lets me know that on the “Road to Kavala” a new network of forgers is based. It seems they have always been here, and were not threatened by the police, so somehow are deeply rooted.
The people I ask tell me forgers have withdrawn, being very cautious. The spectacular arrests and announcements for destroying each and everyone of this traffickers fabricating documents in the capital, have contributed for most of them to cease the activity or to develop it in full secrecy, being ten times more careful in not leaving cues.
They feel threatened and under constant surveillance. But, my source says there is a way to get diploma from them. Of course through a third or fourth person. The meeting with them is impossible. I tell him to ask about the price of one falsified diploma and he says it depends on the master you choose. He tells me that not all of them are on the same level. Some of them are so good in forging that even the rectors and deans cannot believe their eyes when they see their own signatures.
I stop here. It would be much better if a meet someone who has been damaged by this strange, but highly profitable business. And they say that the most damaged in the past three years is Shezai Rokaj, rector of Tirana University, whose name and signature were frequently abused in these documents, for which he does not even know they exist.
Rector under threat
He is almost constantly under threat. He never knows when a forger would put his signature on a diploma. He cannot even predict the moment when someone knocks on his door giving him a file and asking him suspiciously: “Is this your signature, mister Rector?”
PhD Shezai Rokaj is appointed for rector of Tirana University in 2003. This is the time when the forgers in Tirana reached their climax. He says that during the first year of his appointment a delegation from Macedonia paid him a visit to his office, requesting confirmation of the validity of his signature on one diploma. First he was surprised, but then the newly appointed rector realized he has entered one complicated history.
“They were right. With many applications of Albanians looking for a job in Macedonia they submitted diploma for allegedly completed studies at the University of Tirana, by using our signatures”. Among these applications, according to him, there were many cases of forged signature, but also cases where the signatures were correct, but the documents were not authentic.
Rokaj explains that the issue of forged documents can be taken in two directions. One of them he labels as institutional guilt.
"There are cases when the institution has one corrupted element in its administration. He can issue a document for bribe, and as a result the entire institution starts to be directly or indirectly involved in corruption. If a student requests a document for transfer, and the secretary issues not genuine document with the grades, it is natural for the dean, head of department or anyone else to sign this document. In this case we are talking about institutional honesty, seriousness and commitment of the civil servant in question. Such things happen quite often in our institutions. However, after we discovered them, all necessary measures were undertaken.”
The second, mass direction, are the offices of forgers falsifying our signatures, which are called market of institutional documents. We have tried to stop this, but our institution is not responsible for investigating these matters,” Rokaj said, explaining that if some of the members of faculty administration were caught in the act, they would be automatically removed from work. “There is no other, easier measure. It is about degrading the prestige of the institution. This is important especially for regional communications.”
This road takes to Macedonia
In several occasions the rector of Tirana University has raised his voice against the falsified diploma, and one of the strong referent points was Tetovo University. To the question why, rector Rokaj says that “many typical cases come from the inter-institutional transfers”. It seems that this point is most disturbing for him. “I have reported several cases. I have contacted the rector from Tetovo and told him that I have some signals and may be he should check the work of their administration for issuing these documents. He orally told me that some interesting cases were revealed. We had a case when we got a confirmation that one person has the status X in that specific school year. On the other hand, when we requested additional verification, we got something else. So we asked for third confirmation in order to determine what is correct, the first or the second one. In the cases when we had these double statements, we directly refused them,” Rokaj says of a last year case from Tetovo University.
“In the documentation we received, once it was stated he was part-time student, and the next time full-time student. We received different signals. I revealed this case publicly through the media.” Rector Rokaj believes that with the additional confirmation and better communication with the universities in the region, this phenomenon can be eradicated.
He says the most difficult time for verification of documents was in 2004, when there were some developments inside Tetovo University, and the Medical School was closed.
“We send documentation for official verification, something that was not done before, having in mind the experience of international agencies. But we did not receive a single answer for the cases we have sent in 2004. In 2005, after waiting for months to get the answers, we send our own man, who verified through the registries the status of the applicants. The submissions we received provided lot of space for abuse and misconduct that we discovered." Rokaj says that in 30 requests for transfer, 4 or 5 were falsified documents. “This opens the door for abusing the state,” the rector says, explaining that in the past couple of years a good filter has been applied for receiving confirmation from the institutions in Macedonia and Kosovo, but also with 5-6 international agencies from US, Canada, Greece and Italy where the requests for confirmation of results were submitted for those interested in further education or employment in these countries.
But is this filter enough to get in the way of abusing hundreds of persons using falsified documents? Rokaj says that almost in all cases where it has been established that the person presented falsified documents for education, the maximum punishment was dismissal. They do not have any criminal responsibility. Only the manufacturers of these forged documents are prosecuted in Albania.
Albanian police has often undertaken measures for arresting many forgers. One big operation was realized in 2002-03, and afterwards a short period of calmness or secrecy followed.
In 2005 and 2006 there were many interesting cases of using falsified documents as well as forgers caught by the police.
Mufti with falsified diploma
In May 2005, flagrant case was discovered about the diploma of the secretary of Islamic Community in Albania.
Today Zuluftar Dervisi is mufti in Lushnja mosque. He lives quietly, far from the stir and accusations in the capital. One year earlier in 2005 he has entered an adventure. In the Islamic Community he replaced the secretary Sali Tivaru, who was mysteriously killed two years earlier in his office. As secretary of Islamic Community, Dervishi was often targeted. He was accused of not having the necessary education for performing this duty. He was often under suspicion that he abused the property and finances of Muslims. After all these allegations, the secretary has submitted his diploma to the verification commission of the Islamic Community. Although previously he has stated that he had graduated economy, during the verification he has submitted a diploma that he is graduated teacher, claiming he has obtained the diploma after completing the studies in 1993 at “Aleksander Xhuvani” university in Elbasan.
But, several days afterwards, the rector of Elbasan University, Professor Jani Dode, confirmed that Dervishi’s diploma has been falsified. The leadership of the Islamic Community gave a ten-day deadline to the secretary Dervishi to verify his diploma, or he would be fired. But after the verification, former rector of Elbasan University, PhD Mehmet Cheliku, denied that his signature was on the diploma of the secretary of Muslims. In addition, former dean of Theacher’s School at the University, professor Ali Shashai, said the signature was not his.
Two former leaders of Elbasan University pointed out details from their signatures were missing in Dervishi’s diploma, confirming it was a forgery, which could be easily recognized by the way in which the diploma was written. In 1993 all diploma issued by Elbasan University were written by one calligrapher, who was hired because of his good handwriting. The experts that were verifying the diploma presented by Dervishi, confirmed that some ordinary mistakes can be spotted, confirming this was hasty and not good forgery. Also, only the signature of dean of the faculty and president of the commission were written, although the practice says that the names of these persons should also be written. The case with the secretary of Islamic Community was resolved in a several days, as his diploma was a forgery. His opponents and those that accused him won. He, quietly, left the office of his killed predecessor, took his belongings and went to Lushnja. Now, he is mufti, delivering religious services. It seems he does not need university diploma for this.
One super forger
Muharem Kushe obtained his PhD degree in 1991. In 2003, when he was president of the Court of Appellate in Tirana, his name was connected with the case of one falsified diploma. It was the diploma of his daughter. In the story he was standing against one largely wanted forger.
Vesel Serjanaj was arrested by the police in November 2003. 51-year old with a nickname “magician” who fulfilled anyone’s dream for getting any document, had erected his “fortress” on “Mihal Grameno” street in Tirana. There was everything – stamps, signatures of rectors, deans, heads of offices, original documents obtained from who knows who and where. This most wanted criminal was too careful to avoid the leads, continuing his activity in secrecy.
In order to find clients on the ground he had a group of intermediaries. Only through them one could secure a document from master Serjanaj. His intermediaries could be frequently found near the block of embassies or the local bars known as an exchange for visa and other falsified documents.
After long investigation the police have tracked him. One month after his arrest in a garage on the street “Baba Rexha” the counterfeiting department discovered abundance of falsified documents. The police have arrested Klajdi Cani and Skender Priska, as collaborators of super forger, Alfred Tanati, who was arrested several months before. The police made efforts to destroy the chain of traffickers, who succeeded to make a secret kingdom in the heart of the capital.
At that time, the investigation included printing houses where the materials were printed and police started investigation against all suspicious, collaborators and different institutions that provided documents, most of which originals. According to the police, in the moment of Cani and Priska’s arrest there was information that Vesel Serjanaj is their collaborator. But, the evidence was not substantial. Serjanaj hid all materials on which he was working and ceased his activity in order to conceal the leads.
Muharem Kushe, head of the Appellate Court, later found out who is Vesel Serjanaj, forger who among his treasuries also had a falsified diploma with the name of his daughter. But, Muharem Kushe categorically ruled out any connection with the forger. He said he did not know him, but could not rule out the fact that forger Serjanaj used the name of the judge for his purposes. There were signs on the diploma with the name of the 22-year old girl that indicated the photo was airbrushed, while the stamps and signatures were from the Law School in Tirana. The father of the girl said the original diploma was in his house and he never knew Serjanaj. Convinced that the forger has deliberately used his name in the affair and after he was finally in the hands of the police, he left the case to the past. When Serjanaj was captured, president of Appellate Court and many from the police believed that Vesel Serjanaj was the last in the wide network of forgers in Tirana.
But the following weeks and months showed the contrary.
Policemen with false diploma
In January this year one officer and two policemen in Elbasan were fired and another one was under investigation. The County police in Elbasan discovered that the investigation was initiated because these persons applied for work in the state police with forged documents. Sources from the Ministry of Interior disclosed the names of these former employees. “The first-ranking commander Nikolac Tafa, head of the traffic sector in Elbasan County and two policemen Jetmir Runaj in Pekin and Gzim Serbi in Elbasan were discharged. Under investigation is Bashkim Bufi, also first-ranking commander from Pekin. The sources confirm that the policemen were fired after it was discovered that their certificates were falsified in an operation launched by the Internal Control Office, Human Resources Office and Ministry of Interior.
In few days, the investigators discovered that the employees used forged diploma and certificates to be promoted in the police. In one of the cases, a falsified diploma was used so that one official could become commander. The County police from Elbasan said that the entire documentation of the employed persons will pass through the control filter. Director of the county police, chief commissar Arben Joca said that constant investigations would be carried out after this precedent and the suspicion that many persons worked in the police without adequate education. The suspicion is raised that some uniformed persons from a basic rank do not have appropriate education, and many of them have 15-20 years of experience in the police.
This is not the final case. The newspapers in the capital print headline-grabbing information on the arrest of forgers. In a country where this kingdom was spreading the wings for 20 years, winning new spaces, the phenomenon cannot disappear while you blink your eyes. The magicians that can turn an illiterate person into lawyer or economist have only withdrawn. In their secret “offices”, along streets of Tirana they gather new material, do something covert and wait for the moments of new disturbances when the attention of the state will be focused on something else. The unscrupulous officers, as they were labeled by the rector of Tirana University Shezai Rokaj do the same within the university administrations. One dismissal, having in mind the ridiculously low salaries, is nothing in comparison with the profit one can gain from two or three falsified diploma.
Even if you lose your job, you are still in gain.
The number one at the University of Tirana wants to believe that this soup opera with all its affairs and characters will finally end.
He believes that in the past two years the cases of abuse and fabricating documents are not that frequent. And yet, probably subconsciously, he expects someone to knock on his doors and ask him “Mister Rector, is this your signature?”