Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has summoned the chief of the storm-torn IT firm Axact that is staggering under a mountain of allegations ranging from goldbricking hundreds of thousands into buying forged educational diplomas worldwide to laundering the black money white through Hundi.
“Chairman & Chief Execute Officer Axact, Shoaib Ahmad Shaikh and the senior members of the management have been told to produce themselves before the government agents at an FIA office on Thursday,” sources quoting FIA officials as saying.
Shaikh has also been instructed to bring with him all the financial and legal record of his group of companies. “They have been asked to provide the companies registration certificates issued by Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). The Axact administration has also been made bound to submit the details about the paid-up capital of the company,” an official told Samaa on the basis of anonymity. After facing raids, arrests, media trial, and whatnot in the wake of a New York Times investigative report that pinned a global fake diploma scam on it, the beleaguered IT firmAxact has also been alleged to have a stake in money-laundering, Hundi, and Hawala business. According to sources privy to the fraudulent matters of the firm, money laundering through Hundi is also under investigation, among others.Earlier, investigators carried out raids on the offices of Axact accused of running a global fake degree empire, officials said, confiscating computers and holding employees for questioning as the scandal deepened.Axact was accused by the New York Times of running a network of hundreds of websites for phoney universities complete with paid actors for promotional videos, as part of an elaborate scheme that generated tens of millions of dollars annually.
Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officers swooped on the Karachi headquarters of the company, seizing equipment and records and expelling employees from the building, a member of the raiding party told AFP on condition of anonymity. Meanwhile the company’s Rawalpindi office has been sealed and employees were being questioned at the site, an official said. The same official had earlier said that two employees had been arrested, but later clarified they were being quizzed and had not been charged with a crime. “The raid is still ongoing,” Mehmood ul Hassan, acting director of the FIA’s Cyber Crime Wing, told AFP. “Our team is gathering evidence. Our director general will release all details about the raid once it’s completed.”
The move came shortly after Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told the agency to probe “if the said company is involved in any such illegal work which can tarnish the good image of the country in the world”. The report by the New York Times, which quoted former employees and analysed more than 370 websites of fake universities, accreditation bodies and other purported institutions, sparked a wave of criticism on social media even as the company denied wrongdoing. Axact’s media venture named Bol is set to launch a news channel, featuring leading TV anchors and journalists lured from previous employers by high salaries, heightening interest in the story.
The NYT article cited clients from the US, Britain and the United Arab Emirates who had paid sums ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars for their degrees — with some believing the universities were real and they would soon receive coursework. The “university” websites mainly route their traffic through servers run by companies registered in Cyprus and Latvia, and employees would plant fictitious reports about Axact universities on CNN iReport, a website for citizen journalism. Axact and its CEO, Shoaib Ahmad Shaikh, did not respond to requests from AFP for comment on Monday or Tuesday. But a message on its website declared the story “baseless, substandard, maligning, defamatory, and based on false accusations” and added it would sue the New York Times. The message did not directly address the allegations but accused domestic media rivals of colluding with the US newspaper to plant a slanderous story in order to harm its business interests. According to an FIA official who did not wish to be named, the allegations raised by the newspaper would be a crime under Pakistan’s Electronic Transaction Ordinance, punishable by seven years in prison.–SAMAA/Agencies