An article published as if it were an investigation by a pro-government media outlet, and then spread widely in a “copy and paste” manner by other outlets claims that Belind Këlliçi, the mayoral candidate for Tirana from the “Together We Win” coalition in the upcoming May 14 election, has defrauded a U.S. government. The ‘proof’ offered for this claim was that Këlliçi began his bachelor studies without a high school diploma. Faktoje has determined that this news is false, after also receiving an official statement from Coppin University, Maryland, that was attended by Këlliçi.
“Does Belind Këlliçi have a high school diploma and did he defraud the American state of Maryland, in order to register at Coppin University, and then, the Albanian government in order to get his diploma recognized?”
This is how the investigative article from shqiptarja.com begins. In the middle of an electoral campaign, the outlet published four self-described investigative articles claiming that Belind Këlliçi, who is running for mayor of Tirana, has defrauded Coppin University in Maryland, because he had not received a high school diploma from Harry Fultz High School.
The article in question claims that it has documented this infraction by publishing a letter from the high school Këlliçi attended.
“As it was confirmed to us officially by Harry Fultz Institute, and the Ministry of Education, Këlliçi does not have a high school diploma, and, as a result, cannot have completed the process of having his university diploma recognized.” – the shqiptarja.com article claims.
As proof for this claim, the reader is presented with a document wherein Harry Fultz has replied, but the response is not presented in its entirety.
Faktoje acquired a copy of the response from Harry Fultz, the high school Belind Këlliçi attended.
In its full response, which shqiptarja.com has intentionally blurred, the school has responded to an inquiry by the legal representative of the Socialist Party, Plarent Ndreca, explaining that Belind Këlliçi, after completing the 12th grade and asking to continue his studies in the United States, was equipped by the school with several documents that are listed in the response.
The response also explains that this is a normal procedure for this high school.
“This practice has been followed in our school in the period between 1997-2005 by many outstanding students, who, after studying in Albania for 12 years, have continued their education in the USA, UK, and the Czech Republic, as a result of curricular compatibility and corresponding credits” – the school’s response explains.
However, this part of the response has been concealed by the media that has published distorted information on the candidate running for local elections. According to the article in question, the reason Këlliçi was accepted at Coppin University in 2005 was because his brother worked at the university’s admissions office.
“Strong doubts arise that it was precisely his brother, who, via his influence, has helped him register at this university with ease, without a high school diploma.” – claims the article.
Actually, these doubts are easily verifiable. All it takes is to inquire at Coppin University in Maryland and ask for information regarding its alumni.
That is precisely what Faktoje did.
In its response, Coppin University informed Faktoje regarding its admission procedures for students who go through the process, as Belind Këlliçi has.
The university’s guidelines document lists the “guidelines for international student admissions”.
According to this guidebook, a foreign student that applies for admission at Coppin University’s Bachelor degree program should submit a complete application, alongside several documents, including:
Official or notarized secondary school academic records showing grades received, annual mark sheets, examination certificates, and leaving certificate as they apply to the educational system in the student’s home country. Records must be received for each of the last four years of secondary school or Advanced Level Scores.Me Logo - 2004-2006 Coppin Catalog Descriptions (1).pdf
The response from Harry Fultz has explained that they provided Belind Këlliçi with a school report containing grades received for four years, an outline of the curriculum for the years 2001-2005 and detailed curriculums for every subject, as well as an attestation confirming an English-language curriculum.
The information provided by Coppin University in Maryland and Harry Fultz High School in Tirana present clearly the procedure via which Belind Këlliçi was accepted in the Bachelor program.
In its response to Faktoje, Coppin University also informed us regarding the studies Këlliçi completed at this university.
“According to our records, Belind Këlliçi entered Coppin State University during the Fall 2005 semester and graduated with a B.S. in Management Science in December 2008. He graduated Summa Cum Laude (with highest honors), which requires students to earn at least 48 credit hours at the university and earn a cumulative grade point average between 3.75 and 4.0 in all university coursework.”
— Coppin University, Maryland, USA, May 2, 2023
Even though debunking this claim was not difficult, the media outlet who began this “investigation” published not one, or two, or three, but four entire articles and still did not manage to answer the questions it posed itself. This lack of due diligence did not hinder other online media from spreading shqiptarja.com’s misinformation. The title “Belind Këlliçi does not have a diploma” has been published on Facebook at least 99 times.