Every year, the Italian Embassy in Ghana validates the documents of Ghanaian students on scholarship in Italy to enable them keep their scholarships.
The documents students submit for the scholarship are mainly an affidavit from the Supreme Court and proof of family composition and income based on tax clearance certificates from the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), but only the latter needs validation.
But this year some Ghanaian students in Italy took to the Facebook page of the Italian Embassy in Ghana, lambasting the Embassy for causing their scholarships to be cancelled and or delayed.
According to the students, they submitted their documents for validation months ago but the October 31, 2018 deadline has passed and yet the Embassy has still not validated their documents.
As a result, some students have been thrown out of their university dormitories during winter, and denied food, while others have actually been asked to refund up to €4,000 because it has been discovered that they did not qualify for scholarship.
The students said the Italian Scholarship Secretariat has extended the deadline to November 30, 2018 but the Embassy is still showing no sign of validating their documents.
But Adom News investigations at the Italian Embassy revealed that the for more than half of the students, the validation may either never come or would be delayed beyond the deadline because the Embassy has discovered fraud in their visa and scholarship acquisition.
Documents available to Adom News indicate that there is a network of fraudsters in Ghana and Italy who collect between €1,000 and €3,850 from students and fake documents for them to apply for visas.
Per the documents, €1,000 is for basic package, €2,300 for unique package and €3,850 for what they call complete package.
The Italian-based Ghanaian ring leader, who was named only as George, was heard on an audio recording, obtained from the Italian Embassy, advising his clients on how to state their family income to deceive Embassy officials into giving them both visas and scholarships.
He said “if you state a high income you may get the visa but lose the chance of getting a scholarship because it means your parents have money to pay the fees; and if you state low income you will not get the visa because it means you have no means to take care of yourself while in Italy, so take the middle line.”
Another member of the ring was heard on another tape admonishing applicants to wait for a certain Saddat in Kumasi to give them the fake signature that looked most authentic because everyone he signed for got the visa.
Meanwhile, Adom News investigations also found that the Italian Embassy has loads of WhatsApp chats between the ring leader, George and several of his victims; and letters from the GRA showing that at least 15 out of a set of 22 tax clearance documents verified came out as fake.
There was even an email from a victim to the Embassy narrating how, when and where various exorbitant amounts of money were extorted from him for fake documents but the visa never came so he felt the need to go to the Embassy himself for help.
Italian Ambassador to Ghana, Giovanni Favilli told Adom News they had noticed an “unnatural increase” in student visa applications from about 200 in 2013 to a whopping 1,500 in 2018 alone, but it was the confession of that one victim that opened their eyes to the operations of the network of fraudsters who have taken advantage of the Embassy’s leniency to defraud families and enrich themselves.
He said, at some point in their investigations, the Embassy had to fire one of their own workers because they suspected complicity.
Giovanni Favilli said there are over 1,000 Ghanaian students in Italy and lots of them enjoy scholarships and are treated just like Italian students.
“Italy is happy to welcome Ghanaian students and treat them same as Italian students but we will not countenance fraudsters taking advantage of our hospitality to defraud the system,” he said.
The Ambassador noted that even this year, many of the applications have been denied because investigations showed that most of the documents submitted were either fake or not up to the requirement.
He cautioned that the Embassy does not work with middle men, except the company hired to receive applications on behalf of the Embassy, and the application processing fee is only €50 and nothing more.
“If anyone takes your money and promises you a visa, remember that we will verify every minute detail of documents submitted for visas and if fraud is determined you may become an accomplice of the criminal behind the fraud,” he warned.
Meanwhile, the students whose documents have been found to be fake, have been reported to the judicial service and prosecutors in Italy and some of them have already been kicked out of their dormitories and been asked to refund scholarship moneys already spent on them.
The Embassy said it will also report the matter to the police and judicial service here in Ghana.
By Samuel Dowuona