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Former ‘minister’ back in court in university scandal (Update)

morphou courthouse, north court, court
Morphou courthouse

A former ‘minister’ in the north appeared in court again in Morphou on Monday as part of investigation into irregular activities at universities.

The man previously served as ‘education minister’ and board member at Morphou’s Cyprus Health and Social Sciences University (KSTU), where allegations regarding the issuance of false diplomas has surfaced, and which said it had been the victim of embezzlement.

Police believe he fraudulently obtained a total of 926,286TL (€27,451) by “pretending to have sold goods and services to the university with 19 invoices belonging to six different companies.”

He was issued with a further remand and will remain in custody for three more days.

Earlier, the former ‘minister’s’ wife had also appeared in court, accused of having falsely obtained a degree from the KSTU. Police believe she claimed to have completed a four-year degree programme in two years.

This includes the passing of 38 courses in total, despite the fact the degree is supposed to have entailed a total of 61 courses.

She was released on a bail worth 100,000TL (€2,964), while also having had two bonds worth 750,000TL (€22,227) signed by others. She has also had her travel documents seized and is forbidden from leaving the north until her trial begins.

Meanwhile, former board member of the north’s higher education accreditation authority (Yodak) Mehmet Hasguler, who is engaged in a legal battle with Yodak chairman Turgay Avci regarding the latter’s degree, spoke out on Monday.

In a column on news website Bagimsiz in response to the Cyprus Mail’s reporting on the matter wherein the American University of Beirut confirmed the degree’s authenticity, he moved to clarify that “no one has ever said Turgay Avci’s diploma is fake.”

According to Bagimsiz, Hasguler had in 2022 described Avci’s degree as “questionable” and had said “whether or not the degree is falsified can be decided as the result of a judicial investigation.”

Avci had filed a lawsuit against Hasguler, with Hasguler in January accusing Turkish Cypriot Leader Ersin Tatar and high-profile opposition politicians Kudret Ozersay and Tufah Erhurman of covering for Avci.

The court hearing took place on Monday afternoon, with judge Gulden Ciftcioglu saying that the police’s report into Avci’s degree showed “no evidence that it was fake”.

Hasguler’s lawyer Mustafa Asena had said, “the TRNC authorities cannot request these documents directly from the university in Beirut,” and that for this reason, verification could be requested “through Turkish channels”.

Avci’s lawyer Irmak Koc requested that any correspondence between the Turkish Cypriot police and the American University of Beirut be presented to the court as evidence.

Ciftcioglu requested that the report prepared regarding the diploma, correspondence between the Turkish Cypriot police and the university, and the results of the Turkish Cypriot police’s investigation into the matter and the expert report from December 2022 all be presented to the court as evidence within 10 days.

The hearing was then postponed until further notice.

Speaking to Bagimsiz after the court case, Hasguler said the police had prepared the report “in the space of three days” and described the investigation as “superficial”. He added that he expects the court to reconvene in ten days.

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