Investigations | 20 Oct 2014

"We are a group of former employees of Syrian state institutions and universities. We can secure Syrian expatriates' needs, from identification papers, ID cards, passports, and university certificates." This is how the administrators of the "Ittihad [Union] Legal Consultancy in Syria" facebook page introduce themselves.

This page, whose numbers only 1300 followers to date, has become a magic solution for many Syrians scattered outside of their countryparticularly those for whom returning to Syria has become a nightmare.

How is the Counterfeit Performed?

Rozana posed as "Tala al-Fouad" in order to communicate with the counterfeiter, who identified himself as being a lawyer and a former state employee. "Tala" chatted with him at length as a "customer", wishing to buy!

Rozana managed, via the "Tala al-Fouad" pseudonym, to obtain counterfeit copies of a graduation certificate, as well as transcripts carrying the desired grades, complete with official stamps.

The page administrator, describing the nature of his work, says: "We have been working for three years now, and have a formal office in the town of Kilis in southern Turkey. We have all the tools we need for the manufacture of genuine copies of university certificates, passports and identity cards, for any Syrian abroadespecially in Turkey and Lebanon who, due to extraordinary circumstances, fled and can not return, and wish to travel to European countries and be able to find jobs."

The administrator then confidently described the forgery mechanism his office follows: "With regard to the passport, we have blank passports former Immigration Department brought with them. We also have all kinds of official seals required, as well as a professional machine to print the image."

According to the man, the passport looks genuine. Its holder can travel to any country in the world with the exception of Syria, as the passport is all legal, he says, but it has no trace in Syrian official records.

Temptations and Fears of Swindle!

It seems that the promised forgery process is enticing many young people who leave comments on the page, and are then transferred to confer with the administrators throug private messages.

One commentator named Sultan, a Syrian resident in Saudi Arabia, wrote on the page: "I want to officialize my Syrian preparatory degree [Ninth Class]. Please help." Another used the pseudonym "Moustache Vendetta," asked for a forged college degree, and a new passport.

Rozana communicated with one of the people, named Ahmad, who asked this office for help. He was unable to get his undergraduate degree from Damascus, where he was forced to travel before graduation. He found this page by accident, and after communicating with them, he learned that the cost of a replica of his degree would cost him $600.

The young man says: "According to them, I can even set my grade average. They offered me an original copy of my transcript, in which I can set my own grades for an additional $400." He adds: "I did not believe all this nonsenseespecially after I learned that I must send the amount in advance. I will not risk $1000."

Office Sources?

But how can this office provide all these official documents, despite working out of Kilis, in Turkey? Rozana asked this question via the psuedony account to one of the page administrators, who replied: "There are many good samaritans who previously worked in state institutions, and were able to smuggle a great quantity of ministerial official sealsespecially in the identity papers' section, such as passports and educational certificates for all levels. We feel the pain of Syrians fleeing the war, and want to help them."

As with regard to the amounts they receive for what they claim is "legal advice" they give, the page administrator explains: "We are not in the business of swindling people. Our goal is not business but humane. We sometimes obtain the required documents from former employees for huge sums. After filling with the necessary data and seals we sell it at cost plus $200—only to cover office and staff costs."

He gives an example in the case of a passport: "We buy a geniune empty passport for $400, and sell it after adding the information for $600."

As for military service deferral documents, the man confirmed that they do not deal in, or forge, these documents, as they are only used inside Syria proper.

As for the view of Syrian law vis-a-vis the "services" carried out by the Ittihad Office; these clearly fall under the category of falsifyication of official documents and seals, including the certificates stamped with official universities' seals, as well as those of the Ministries of Higher Education and Foreign Relations. Punishment for such infraction ranges between 7 years to 15 years' imprisonment in accordance with the provisions of Syrian law. The state additionally retains the right to prosecute perpetrators, wherever they may be, in the event of discovery of the offense in any country other than Syria.

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