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Fugitive Jean Nassif, wanted in Australia over an alleged $150 million fraud, and former Goldman Sachs boss Tim Leissner, who’s about to be sentenced in the US over one of the biggest financial scandals in history, have one thing in common.
Both bought fake degrees from the same bogus university.
Jean Nassif is wanted over an outstanding warrant in relation to alleged fraud-related offences.Credit: Police Media
“In 2006, Jean completed a Master of Science in the field of Construction Management from Somerset University,” claims Nassif on his LinkedIn page.​
The controversial developer has also falsely claimed to have an engineering degree. “After graduating with a Civil Engineering degree in Beirut, Lebanon, ​Jean Nassif migrated to Australia in 1989,” he posted on Facebook in 2021.
Elsewhere, Nassif suggested that he didn’t finish his engineering degree as he emigrated to Australia in 1988 due to the civil war in Lebanon.
Somerset University was listed as one of many “bogus providers masquerading as genuine UK universities” by the UK’s official degree verification site as recently as 2017.
Somerset University has been listed as a “bogus provider” of UK degrees.
“A worthless degree from a university that isn’t,” one British newspaper said of Somerset University, which was prosecuted and fined in the UK in 1992 for selling unrecognised degrees costing up to £2700 ($5100).
​Retired FBI agent Allen Ezell, who specialises in education fraud, named Somerset University at a US Congressional hearing investigating “diploma mills”. He testified ​in 2004 that Somerset University offered to deliver him an MBA within 15 days, complete with a grade point average and professorial letters of recommendation, for $US1995.
​Leissner, ​the disgraced former head of Goldman Sachs for South-East Asia​, began using the title “Dr” in 1993 after acquiring a ​bogus PhD in business administration from the University of Somerset. ​
In 2018, Leissner pleaded guilty to charges brought against him by the US Department of Justice. He admitted personally stealing $200 million from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund known as 1MDB, as well as paying bribes to corrupt Malaysian and Emirati officials.
Tim Leissner and his estranged wife, Kimora Lee Simmons.Credit: Getty
Goldman Sachs agreed to pay $US2.5 billion and guaranteed the return of $US1.4 billion in assets to the Malaysian government in 2020 in exchange for dropping all criminal charges against the bank.​ Leissner is currently awaiting sentencing.
​In June, Nassif, 55, ​who is believed to be in Lebanon, ​had a warrant issued for his arrest over an alleged fraud relating to falsified sales contracts used to secure a $150 million Westpac loan on Toplace’s Skyview development in Castle Hill.
​His construction company Toplace was placed into administration in July with debts of more than $1 billion. Creditors include a number of owners corporations who had obtained rectification orders requiring Toplace to fix their faulty buildings.
For each new development site, Nassif set up a special-purpose company featuring his initials JKN (Jean Khazen Nassif).
Jean Nassif in happier times with his now estranged wife Nissy.
Creditors of one of those companies, JKN 3, which developed apartments in Botany, recently voted to liquidate the company.
In his report to creditors, JKN 3’s liquidator Brian Silvia suggested that the project made a profit of $30 million. But when Toplace and JKN 3 were ordered to rectify structural problems costing $3 million, the cupboard was bare. “They sucked the money out and left nothing for defects,” Silvia told the Herald.
Creditors were told that the money was channelled elsewhere in the Toplace empire, possibly using inflated construction costs.
“In our view, the company’s profit and loss and income tax returns have been manipulated and do not represent the true and fair ​financial performance of the company,” said Silvia’s report.
Silvia’s investigations into the eight JKN companies to which he has been appointed administrator have revealed a similar pattern, with the profits removed from the various companies with no provision being made for rectification costs totalling $60 million.
Last month the NSW Building Commissioner notified one of those companies, JKN Field, which developed the Vicinity apartment complex in Canterbury, that it was a criminal offence to fail to comply with a building rectification order.
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