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For some time Norwegian authorities have feared that students from abroad will apply for studies with diplomas from so-called diploma mills – fake universities selling diplomas for a fee.
But what if the diploma mills are also found in the Norwegian authorities' own backyard?
Today, Khrono can reveal a network operating in the Middle East and awarding certificates and diplomas for honorary doctorates. The diplomas are issued by fake universities, registered in Norway and operated by two men living in the Oslo area.
On several occasions, diplomas were awarded at fashionable ceremonies at hotels in the United Arab Emirates.
Persons playing central roles in the network, claims that the diplomas have been approved by the Norwegian authorities.
This is the story of the fake universities.
Aihan Jaf lives in this house in Lier between Oslo and Drammen.
The 53-year-old Kurdish immigrant is a local politician for the Socialist Left Party in Lier and in recent years he has reported an annual income of just over 200.000 Norwegian kroner.
People who know Jaf say that he has not completed any form of higher education.
This, however, has not prevented him from presenting himself as a doctor for several years, while travelling to several countries in the Middle East and arranging conferences in hotels in the United Arab Emirates.
Jaf has established several organizations both in Norway and in England. The most visible of them is called the Arab-European Center for Human Rights and International Law.
He also established the organization «Oslo International University for Studies and Research» in 2017.
Oslo International University for Studies and Research describes itself in the Norwegian Business Registry in Brønnøysund as: «The university evaluates specialized scientific research and studies in all fields, and gives researchers trade certificates and honorary doctorates as recognition awards for their specialized research. And give them an expert degree».
The university issues diplomas in the Middle East and has promised that these will provide students opportunities to gain valid education in Europe.
The group leader in Lier Socialist Left Party, Kathy Lie, tells Khrono that she perceives Jaf as a dutiful man who always shows up at meetings and takes on tasks. But she has never heard of any university.
“I have not heard of any university. I know he runs an international human rights organization, but I know little about how the organization works”, she says.
For several months, Khrono has attempted to contact Jaf on a number of occasions. Jaf has not answered emails, text messages or phone calls.
April 2019: The Rector of Horus Academy in Egypt is preparing for a press conference. He has decorated the office with the Norwegian flag and the logo of the Norwegian university with whom his academy is signing an agreement with. Something big is brewing for the academy, which educates health workers, among other educational disciplines.
The Norwegian university is the university created by Aihan Jaf: “Oslo University for Studies and Research”, or Oslo University as it is commonly referred to.
On January 24 of this year, Nokut, the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education, asked Jaf to explain what this university is and what it does. Nokut emphasized to Jaf that only accredited institutions can call themselves universities.
Nokut has not yet heard from Jaf. After Khrono first contacted Jaf four days after the Nokut request, he deleted the organization and the “university” website.
Before then, the university marketed itself with having 1,258 international students and 35 "learning programs". It advertised university a large number of courses costing several thousand Norwegian kroner.
When the press conference at Horus Academy in Egypt starts, the academy president is sitting behind a large wooden desk. The Norwegian flag and the EU flag are prominently placed.
By his side sits Aihan Jaf.
There is a great contrast between Jaf's modest life in Norway and the man who signs the agreement, lets himself be photographed and does an interview with an Egyptian TV channel.
The document signed by Jaf and the academy president is described as a collaboration protocol between the Egyptian academy and Oslo International University for Studies and Research. The agreement is about the exchange of experience and information, scientific training and exchange of students between Oslo and Damietta, the port city on Egypt's north coast where the academy is located.
This is what Horus Academy claims on its Facebook page. Romouz Academy in Giza near Cairo is also part of the agreement.
Jaf emphasizes in a TV interview posted on the same Facebook page, that according to the signed agreement it may be possible for students who excel at the academy to travel on an exchange program to Norway.
Jaf also says that the agreement gives students at Horus a great advantage because they can gain European expertise, in addition to Egyptian expertise. In marketing itself, Horus declares that their degrees are approved in Egypt as well as in the EU.
In responding to queries from Khrono about the agreement, whether he feels he has been tricked and if he knows that the Oslo International University for Studies and Research is not a genuine university, the president of Horus Academy has not responded. He declares that he must have approval from the Egyptian authorities to talk to us, and Khrono has not succeeded in getting such an approval.
The Facebook-page of the academy, where photos and TV-interviews were shared, seems to have been deleted after Khrono contacted the academy president.
The Egyptian embassy in Oslo is among those who have notified Norwegian authorities about fake universities. In a recent interview with Khrono, consul Nour El-Bana at the Egyptian embassy described a visit to the embassy by Aihan Jaf last autumn.
According to El-Bana, Jaf tried to get the embassy's stamp on diplomas for a bachelor's degree in nursing in Egypt.
The popular resort of Kafr El Sheikh is home to Al Qima Academy. Like Horus Academy, health professionals are trained at the academy.
In letters sent to the Norwegian Ministry of Education last year [MS1] on December 9, International University for Studies and Research was the topic. The letters also mentioned Al Qima Academy. The academy announced in a Facebook post that an education at the Al Qima Academy gave a "certificate from the University of Oslo".
Horus Academy points out on its website that "The Academy of Horus is the sole agent for the Norwegian University of Oslo" in the Diametta region in northern Egypt.
The genuine University of Oslo denies any knowledge of Al Qima Academy, Horus Academy or any other persons mentioned in this article. Rector Svein Stølen has a problem with the name similarity:
Svein Stølen, president of University of Oslo
The communications department at Nokut states that they have not received applications from students containing alleged accreditation from Oslo International University for Studies and Research.
At the ceremony marking the signing of the agreement between his fake university and Horus Academy, Jaf is not alone. He and the academy president are flanked by two men.
Ahmed Ghazy and Mahmoud Shaban, both lawyers, are central in Jaf's network. On several occasions, they have represented the Arab-European Center for Human Rights and International Law, one of Jaf's human rights organizations, and Oslo International University for Studies and Research.
On facebook, Shaaban has posted a number of photos of himself, Ghazy and Jaf posing in front of the Norwegian flag, attending meetings and traveling together. Shabaan refers to Ghazy and Jaf as friends - and doctors.
Shaaban has tried to attract applicants by promising them opportunities to obtain a diplomas or doctorate from Jaf´s false university.
Last year on May 9, Shaaban, who has a number of titles including vice president of Jaf's university, published a post on Instagram.
In the text, he writes that research written in Norwegian, English or Arabic and can be sent to shim for assessment, along with a CV, a review of qualifications, a copy of a passport and a profile picture.
Among the opportunities offered students are researcher are:
● Researchers can register and submit their research for $100. If the researcher passes, he or she can obtain an honorary doctorate from Oslo International University for Studies and Research, with accreditation from the university - for an additional fee for issuance and accreditation.
● The researcher can then request a certificate with approval from the Norwegian Ministry of Justice, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the embassy of the researcher's home country (if the country has an embassy in Norway) – again after payment of an additional fee.
● The researcher who now holds «a doctor» can now apply for an annual card from the university in Norwegian, English or Arabic (or all three languages) which proves that he or she has a doctorate from the university - for an additional fee for issuing the card.
● The researcher can also apply for an annual membership card from the university - for an additional fee.
● Finally, researchers who have received an honorary doctorate, or any other diploma from the university, can attend an international meeting where they will receive diplomas, diplomas and medals, and be honored with media coverage and international attention – again for a fee.
It is uncertain how many people have paid for certificates from Jaf’s university. But he is also not the only one that the two Egyptian lawyers are helping in Norway.
As mentioned earlier, the Egyptian embassy told of Jaf´s visits when he has tried unsuccessfully to get a diploma authorized.
Last year, the Egyptian embassy in Oslo sent a letter on November 18 to the Norwegian government inquiring about the validity of stamps and signatures that Norwegian courts and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had put on diplomas from another university in Oslo. But this time, they were not referring to Jaf´s phony university.
It was a new and previously unknown university the embassy wanted answers about: Bay Ridge University for Studies and Research.
The man behind this university is Tarek Ibrahim, a man from Egypt living in Norway. When named in conjunction with his organizations and this fake university, he often uses the name «Dr. Tarek Anany».
According to the Brønnøysund Registry, Ibrahim's Bay Ridge University for Studies and Research was first registered at a private address in Grefsenkollen in Oslo, but later was registered at an address of an office Tarek Ibrahim rented at Bryn in Oslo.
The office space was rented by Ibrahim from December last year. At the beginning of this year he posted a video on social media showing the opening of his new offices.
At the same address, Ibrahim, much like Aihan Jaf, has established two human rights organizations in addition to his university. Ibrahim, too, also hands out awards on behalf of his organizations and has awarded honorary doctorates on behalf of his university.
Several sources, including himself, refer to Tarek Ibrahim as Dr. Tarek Anany, but Ibrahim himself admits that he does not have a doctorate degree. But he estimates that he has received ten to fifteen honorary doctorates, similar to the kind of doctorates his university has awarded to others.
Both Ibrahim and Jaf have registered their organizations as voluntary organizations. Public accounting is not required for such organizations in Norway, and Khrono has not been able to track the finances of the organizations.
Tarek Ibrahim, too, has the same contacts in Egypt as Aihan Jaf.
The Egyptian lawyers, Ghazy and Shaaban, also represent both the human rights organizations and the fictional university of Ibrahim. On the wall of what appears to be Lawyer Shaaban's office, the logo of Jaf's University has been replaced with the logo of Ibrahim's University.
While Aihan Jaf have not responded to any of Khronos many requests for an interview, Trek Ibrahim met with Khronos journalists together with an interpreter. He says he does not want his name to be known, but he also says that he wishes to explain his version of the events.
Tarek Ibrahim tells Khrono that he knows little about Ghazy and Shaaban, but that he met them through Aihan Jaf and later invited them to an award ceremony in the United Arab Emirates. He says he did not want to have more contact with Ghazy and Shaaban after 2018, and that he haven't spoken to them since.
Ibrahim says he started his human rights organizations and his university in order to do something good for people who needed help. He says he connects people who need help with people who can help, and that those who help can later be rewarded by awards from his organizations. According to himself, he does not earn anything from this.
The Facebook pages of Ibrahim's organizations show images of the organization's logo on packages of emergency food and emergency equipment and Ibrahim claims that he has built three water wells in Benin in Africa.
Ibrahim also says that he has made it clear in letters to both embassies and on his own Facebook pages, that both his own and Jaf's fake university are not real universities.
But as it turns out, it is possible to buy a degree from Bay Ridge University in other countries
In addition to two human rights organizations and a fake university, Tarek Ibrahim also registered a third organization in Norway in 2018. This can be seen in the videos and photos in social media from the offices Ibrahim rents for about 300 dollars a month.
This third organization has changed its name in Norway, but an organization is registered under the same name and with the same logo in England. The organization apparently offers a number of courses in many countries, using the title of Norwegian International Board.
From the Iraqi part of Kurdistan, a man named Gihad Artisi runs one branch of the organization, where diplomas and certificates are distributed. He earlier also held courses on behalf of an organization Aihan Jaf had registered in the UK.
According to people who have attended Artisi's courses, a training course costs 150 dollars. The diplomas that are awarded, states that they have been issued in Norway.
However, Artisi states in a Whatsapp message that he does not know Tarek Ibrahim or Aihan Jaf personally, that he does not know if the two sell diplomas or not, and that his course has nothing to do with their fake universities. He does not answer questions about why his course ads contain the Norwegian flag, Norwegian addresses and Norwegian phone numbers.
Tarek Ibrahim also says that he doesn't know Artisi and that the organization's name has been misused. However, Ibrahim says that such courses and training, which do not pretend to be university education, are somethings he issues certificates for. He says he wants to give people without education proof of what they can do.
The Arab Facebook page GoDegree, with an address and phone number in Cairo, Egypt, long has been advertising for Tarek Ibrahim's Bay Ridge University.
Following the corona virus outbreak, GoDegree posted an ad offering seven lectures using «Zoom» — the video conferencing service. According to the ad, it will provide an international diploma in organizational psychology, accredited by the Norwegian Bay Ridge University, which can later qualify for a master's or a doctoral degree.
The ad received 8000 «likes» and refers to a phone number in Libya.
GoDegree's Libya office is also the place to go if you want a diploma, a bachelor's, a master's degree or a doctorate from Bay Ridge University. The cost is 450 dollars for a professional diploma, 1150 dollars for a bachelor degree, 850 dollars for a master degree and 950 dollars for a doctorate.
GoDegree's ad declares that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and the university's office in Norway will approve the diplomas.
Tarek Ibrahim denies any knowledge of GoDegree and says he can not answer for what other Facebook pages or websites write and why they mention his Bay Ridge University for Studies and Research.
“I have written on my Facebook page that everyone who has abused my university name will be taken to court. I do not know any of them”, Tarek Ibrahim says.
He says he has never made any money from awarding honorary doctorates or certificates.
During the summer the Facebook pages of Bay Ridge University for Studies and Research were removed.
Through a number on the Facebook pages of what seems to be the Iraqi branch of the false university, «Bay Ridge University For Studies & Research in Iraq Basra», Khrono gets in touch with an Iraqi man.
The Facebook page has posted several ads and photos of certificates and honorary doctorate ceremonies related to Bay Ridge University in Norway. The man Khrono contacted made clear that it is possible to buy a certificate from Bay Ridge University:
Hi. Is it still possible to receive an honorary doctorate from Bay Ridge University in Norway?
Bay Ridge University Irak svarer:
Great. I saw the ad on Facebook. What is required to obtain such a certificate from the university?
Bay Ridge University Irak svarer:
Submit a graduation certificate and a copy of your passport with two photos. And the fee for the certificates.
I understand. How much is the fee for the certificate?
Bay Ridge University Irak svarer:
Is the diploma made in Norway?
Bay Ridge University Irak svarer:
Yes, sure! The certificate will be delivered to you and signed by the Kingdom of Norway, by the European Union and by the President of the University.
Tarek Ibrahim also denies knowledge of this Facebook page and denies knowing the contact selling certificates from his university in Iraq.
The Facebook page was no longer available after Khrono asked Ibrahim questions about it.
During the investigation of Jaf's and Ibrahim's «university network», Khrono's journalists have come across several honorary doctorates and diplomas with signatures and stamps from a Norwegian district court and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Diplomas from Bay Ridge University include stamps with the Norwegian national emblem and signatures from Asker and Bærum District Court and from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The stamps and signatures have been obtained through so-called notarial confirmations from the district court and authorizations from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In short, they do not confirm anything other than that the person who has signed a document - in this case a certificate - is the person he or she claims to be.
But this means that the Norwegian coat of arms is stamped onto the honorary doctorates or diplomas that end up with those who can pay in the Middle East - something the Egyptian embassy has reacted to.
“What the district court has confirmed is that the document was signed in the presence of one of the court's employees. There is no confirmation that the content of the document has been approved by the Norwegian authorities”, writes Ina Fretheim, head of administration in Asker and Baerum District Court, to Khrono's journalists.
“It is generally regrettable if notarial confirmations are used to give the impression that they are something else and more than they are. We have not previously been made aware of the misuse of our notarial confirmations. Whether this is a criminal matter must first be a matter for the police to assess”, Fretheim adds.
Tarek Ibrahim tells Khrono that he has obtained signatures and stamps on diplomas and certificates for people who have wanted to make the documents from his organizations more «official», but that it is not something he earns money from and that he has not claimed that the Norwegian authorities approve them, he says.
Last year in September, Aihan Jaf's human rights organization Arab-European Center for Human Rights and International Law, organized a conference at a hotel in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Important looking people and the leaders of the organization, led by Aihan Jaf, sat in a large ornamented room.
According to the website of Jaf's human rights organization, the sponsors of the event were, Oslo International University for Studies and Research and the International Organization for Human Rights and International Law. The latter is the other human rights organization Jaf has founded and registered in Norway.
The participants and the leading figures in Jaf's network applauded the 80 people given a number of awards. In front of the Norwegian flag, the UN flag and the flag of the United Arab Emirates, 20 people from the emirates were honored as pioneers of humanitarian work. They are entitled «Ambassador of Goodwill and Peace» - an award the organization has presented to a great many people.
At the same time, 26 people received an honorary doctorate from Oslo International University for Studies and Research.
Deltakerne og de ledende personene i Jafs nettverket klappet inn 80 mennesker som fikk utdelt en rekke utmerkelser. Foran det norske flagget, FN-flagget og flagget til De forente arabiske emirater, ble 20 personer fra emiratene hedret som pionerer for humanitært arbeid. De får tittelen «Ambassador for Goodwill and Peace» — en utmerkelse organisasjonen har delt ut til en rekke personer.
Samtidig mottok 26 personer en æresdoktorgrad fra Oslo International University for Studies and Research.
Such honorary doctorates have been awarded by the organization on a regular basis. Among those who have received the award, is the Kurdish lecturer at Salahuddin University in Erbil in northern Iraq, Chnar Namq Hasan.
Hasan, a lecturer on media studies at the university, tells Khrono, through her own assistant acting as a translator, that she received her honorary doctorate after she gave away her research to a woman during a conference in 2015.
“I did not know her, because it was a big conference and I was the only one who participated from my region. She received my research, and later I received the honorary doctorate for it”, Chnar Namq Hasan says.
Reporter: “So you gave it to a person, and then the research was evaluated and later you got an honorary doctorate? Did she work for the University of Oslo?”
“That is right. I do not know if she worked for Oslo International University for Studies and Research, and it was not so important either, because the research is about the genocide of Kurds and I want it to be as well known as possible”, Hasan says.
Reporter: “Who gave you the degree?”
“Representatives of the university came to Erbil. I do not know those or others who have received such an honorary doctorate”, says Hasan.
Whether the media lecturer is telling the truth or not is uncertain. According to Jaf's human rights organization, she has a position in the "general secretariat" of the organization. Others in the organization's management have also received honorary doctorates.
Ibrahim's human rights organization, the Norwegian International Organization for Justice and Peace, has also held award and diploma ceremonies, at Radisson Blu Resort hotel in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.
In October 2019, 75 people gathered in the hotel's banquet hall. A woman that arabic websites describes as a Saudi princess, was awarded a diploma for her work for peace and human rights, in addition to an honorary doctorate. According to another news website, the diplomas were awarded the princess because her work is consistent with the Saudi-Arabian national transition programme «Vision 2030».
Tarek Ibrahim modifies the impression of awarding a saudi princess, despite that the princess title is printed on the diplomas he awarded her, by stating that the woman is from Egypt and is only married to a Saudi prince.
Ibrahim estimates that he awarded between 30 and 40 honorary doctorates in Sharjah.
One of the people receiving the honorary doctorate is the woman who receives a certificate from Tarek Ibrahim in the picture above. As the document shows, she has received an honorary doctorate from Bay Ridge University for Studies and Research.
She has previously also become a «Goodwill Ambassador» for Ibrahim's human rights organization Norwegian International Organization for Justice and Peace, and received a diploma adorned with the Norwegian flag, the EU flag, Bay Ridge University logo and a copy of the UN logo on one side - on the other side, the Norwegian national emblem and a stamp from the Egyptian embassy in Oslo.
As late as February 14th and 15th this year, a new Arab-European forum for world peace was held, led by Aihan Jaf's organizations. A number of people were honored as ambassadors for the organization at the same hotel as usual - in Sharjah in the United Arabic Emirates.
It is uncertain whether honorary doctorates were given out also this time. But the meeting was sponsored by Horus Academy, one of the Egyptian health academies affiliated with Oslo International University and Aihan Jaf.
Aihan Jaf's first human rights organization in Norway was first registered in 2006. His second organization in Norway was established in 2016. Over the years, he has made a network through the organizations that extends to almost the entire Middle East - even to South-America.
People that used to know Jaf from his early days in Norway, about 20 years ago, say that Jaf had experienced rough treatment before he came to Norway and describes his involvement in human rights issues as genuine.
Lists that have been published on the websites of Jaf's organizations include the names of people from at least 16 countries, who are considered a part of the leader group in the organizations. Both Jaf and Ibrahim have attached representatives and spokespersons for their organizations in countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
In the spring of 2019, Aihan Jaf participated in a conference against the death penalty in Brussels, sponsored by the EU and Norwegian authorities. Among the images he shared in social media, were photographs of Jaf and other Norwegian human rights activists working against oppression in the Arab world.
Khrono has been in contact with some of them, who say they can not remember, and have not heard of Jaf, neither before nor after the conference.
After the conference against the death penalty, Jaf appointed a representative of his organization to The Arabian Peninsula - where all countries practice the death penalty.
Jaf's network and partner organizations have also written critical statements labeling critical reports from Amnesty and Human Rights Watch about the United Arab Emirates' authorities and Saudi Arabia's Prince Mohammed bin Salman as political. The EU, too, is slammed for statements that are critical of the development of democracy in Egypt.
When Khrono contacted Jaf for the first time this January, he hung up on us when he was asked about Oslo International University. After a number of inquiries, Jaf sent an e-mail where he said that the university now was deleted.
Jaf have since removed social media accounts, and during the last couple of weeks he changed the privacy settings of his organization's Twitter-account, so that the tweets are no longer visible.
Khrono have met with Jaf once, and then made an agreement about sending him questions for an interview. Jaf did not fulfil this agreement and did not answer any questions.
But Jaf continues his activity.
On May 6th, Jaf, along with the lawyers Mahmoud Shaaban and Ahmed Ghazy, registered a new organization in the British business register, under the name Peace Experts LTD. Three weeks later, they changed their name to the International Authority for Investment Experts and Entrepreneurship LTD.
On June 10th, another organization appeared in the names of Aihan Jaf and the two lawyers in the British register.
Together with a fourth person, they registered Jaf's human rights organization Arab-European Center for Human Rights and International Law at a mailbox address in London.