- FIA raids, seals Axact offices in Pindi and Karachi, takes records, staff into custody
- Axact CEO Shoaib Shaikh, other company officials directed to appear in FIA’s Karachi office today
- Senate takes up Axact scandal, refers matter to House committee for investigation
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Tuesday raided the offices of Axact, a software firm in Karachi, which has come under scrutiny for running a global diploma mill that has earned tens of millions of dollars through a network of fake online schools.
The furore comes just as Axact is preparing to start Bol, which has built a large studio and hired away senior journalists from other news media groups. The station is expected to begin broadcasting after Ramzan in mid-July.
During the raid on Axact’s headquarters in Karachi and smaller offices in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, investigators from FIA’s Corporate Crimes Unit and Cyber Crime Wing seized computers, fake degrees, certificates, seals, fake verification letters of various countries, including that of US Secretary of State John Kerry, letterheads of various fake universities, receipts of university fees and various documents that potentially implicate Axact for the allegations levelled against it.
Moreover, the law enforcers also nabbed 27 to 32 Axact employees, according to differing sources, for questioning. The main computer server was also seized and web hosting record of the company for the past 10 years was sought.
The FIA has also formed a seven-member team to probe the allegations against the company. The team is headed by FIA Sindh Director Shahid Hayat and involves Higher Education Commission (HEC).
FIA Deputy Director Tahir Tanveer has been quoted as saying that two Axact offices in Islamabad and Rawalpindi have been sealed and that around 27 employees of the company, including the regional manager, were taken into custody by the Islamabad investigation team.
Meanwhile, a team of the FIA’s corporate crime unit also visited Axact’s Karachi offices and questioned their employees, particularly IT employees, who were not allowed to leave the office premises during the investigation.
FIA Karachi Deputy Director Kamran Ataullah said the investigation would not be limited to the contents of The Times article. “We’ve issued a letter to them, and we’re looking for details of their database, employees, websites and equipment they’re using,” he said.
SHOAIB SHAIKH SUMMONED:
Moreover, according to the FIA, Axact Chairman and Chief Execute Officer (CEO) Shoaib Ahmad Shaikh and senior members of the management have been told to present themselves at the FIA office in Karachi on Wednesday.
“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 agency official said.
Earlier, the action against Axact kicked off as Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan ordered an enquiry into a New York Times (NYT) report, titled “Fake diplomas, real cash: Pakistani company Axact reaps millions”, which described links between Axact and at least 370 websites, many of which purport to be online universities and high schools based in the United States.
An Interior Ministry spokesman said Nisar had directed the FIA to submit a report after a thorough investigation within 15 days. The minister in his directive also said that the FIA was to determine whether the contents of the NYT story were true and whether the company was involved in any illegal business which may bring a “bad name” to Pakistan.
MONEY LAUNDERING TOO?
After facing raids, arrests, media trial, and whatnot, the beleaguered IT firm has also been accused of having a stake in money laundering, Hundi and Hawala business.
An FIA official on anonymity said that the allegations raised by the newspaper if proven true would be punishable by seven years in prison under Pakistan’s Electronic Transaction Ordinance.
In the meanwhile, several former Axact employees contacted The Times, offering accounts of their experiences working at the company. By Tuesday morning, phone lines at some of the university websites run by Axact were not being answered.
The uproar generated a barrage of comments on social media in Pakistan. Critics mocked Axact’s network of online universities, which carry American-sounding names like Barkley and Columbiana. A smaller number of supporters and employees have vociferously defended the company.
Bloggers publicised the names of university and high school websites they said were also run by Axact, which went beyond a list published by The Times on Sunday.
Bol Editor In Chief Kamran Khan said in a Twitter message that the new station had been created to uphold the truth and was “not in the business of cover-ups regardless personal cost or consequences”.
Taking notice of the scandal, the Senate has moved the matter to the concerned committee of the House for investigation.
On Tuesday, addressing the Upper House, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan called for an official investigation and said the episode had brought disrepute for Pakistan, however, the company management has the right to give explanation.
“But it seems that the story that has been published is true. What’s the reason that we Pakistanis are such experts in forgery?” Ahsan said, terming the issue a matter of grave concern.
On Ahsan’s suggestion, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani constituted a committee to probe into the issue and submit a report in a month.
On the other hand, a video circulating on social media showed company’s founder Shaikh addressing and cheering employees on Monday evening.
In the video, Shaikh reiterated several points from Axact’s official response and accused a Times reporter of colluding with the rival Express Tribune group.
Earlier, in its response to NYT on May 18, Axact said the Times report was “baseless, substandard, maligning, defamatory, and based on false accusations.” The company said it planned to take legal action against the newspaper.