FIA launches probe into fake degrees allegations

Pakistan Press Foundation

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: A day after the publication of a New York Times report against a Pakistani software company, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) launched on Tuesday a probe into the alleged fake degrees scam, ‘raided’ its offices in Islamabad and Karachi and asked its top management to appear before investigators on Wednesday.

On Monday, the newspaper in a front-page report accused Axact — the parent company of BOL media network — of selling fake diplomas and degrees online through “hundreds of fictitious schools” and making “tens of millions of dollars annually”.

The company has denied the allegations.

The investigation was ordered by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who asked the FIA to determine the veracity of the Times report and whether the company was involved in any illegal business which could bring a bad name to the country.

While an FIA official in Karachi said the agency had only ‘visited’ the Axact’s Defence office for “an inquiry”, the agency’s Islamabad zone director Inam Ghani told Dawn that two servers and dozens of central processing units (CPUs) had been seized during a raid on the company’s Defence office in the federal capital and sent for a forensic analysis.

Mr Ghani said that as many as 18 employees of the firm were freed after the investigators had recorded their statements.

In Karachi, senior officials of the FIA’s cyber crime wing and corporate crime unit separately visited the Axact headquarters.

They said that neither any document or equipment was seized nor any employee detained.

They said they had just talked to the management and served them a notice to come to the FIA office on Wednesday to record their statement and provide necessary information.

“It’s just an inquiry which is too at a very early stage,” deputy director of FIA’s corporate crime wing Kamran Ataullah told reporters before leaving the building. “It is quite strange that at this very early stage you [media] are making huge stories.”

In his brief conversation, he said: “We have asked them to furnish required information and every record which we need. Nothing is concrete yet and we will share once anything emerges.”

Meanwhile, an FIA official in Islamabad said the agency’s corporate crime wing would conduct a thorough investigation into the matter, adding that there were also allegations of tax evasion and money laundering against the firm which had filed no tax returns in 2014.

He said the FIA might recommend the government to place the name of Axact’s Chief Executive Officer Shoaib Ahmed Sheikh on the exit control list.

Axact approaches SHC

Also on Tuesday, the Sindh High Court issued notices to the federal authorities, including the interior ministry, for May 26 on a petition of Axact (Pvt) Ltd asking the court to restrain the respondents from taking any coercive action against the firm on the basis of the Times report.

The court also issued a notice to the deputy attorney general and directed the respondents “to act strictly in accordance with the law”.

Issue echoes in Senate

The Times story was also discussed in the upper house of parliament when Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan described the report as ‘shameful’ for the country.

He said that while the Axact group had the right to explain its position, the news appeared to be true. “Our heads should hang in shame,” he remarked.

He regretted that Pakistan’s name came in acts of fraud.

The chair referred the matter to the standing committee concerned at the request of the opposition leader.


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