The Federal Investigation Agency’s forensic experts from Lahore, Islamabad and Quetta visited Axact headquarters in the upscale Defence neighbourhood of Karachi on Thursday to expedite the ongoing investigation into the software company.
The probe was ordered by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar after a New York Times exposé claimed that Axact was running a “fake education empire”.
For two consecutive days after the special report’s publication, FIA teams raided the company’s head office in Karachi and regional offices in the twin-cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Thursday wasn’t any different for Axact’s Karachi staff, as the investigators’ comings and goings were quite difficult to keep track of.
The forensic experts kept working on the company’s confiscated computers, trying to find out about all the businesses it has been involved in.
The FIA team also confiscated educational degrees, diplomas and certificates, as well as stamp machines from Axact’s office. On FIA Sindh Director Shahid Hayat’s directives, many senior officials, including Ashfaq Alam Khan, Altaf Hussain and Mohammad Ali Abro, are participating in the investigation to complete it at the earliest.
Sources said the investigators have seized some of the hardware and computers from the head office, and recorded statements of top officials of different departments.
The FIA’s major focus on Thursday was on Axact’s well-known call centre. However, the investigators also continued to concentrate on the company’s IT department.
It is believed that the students outside Pakistan were being contacted through the call centres. The investigation teams hope to obtain solid proof of Axact’s involvement in the illegal business.
Despite being issued notices, Axact CEO Shoaib Sheikh didn’t appear before the FIA on Thursday, following which another notice was issued to him, directing him to appear before the investigators within 48 hours.
The officials said the court would be involved if Sheikh failed to respond to the notice.
Ever since the FIA has started visiting Axact headquarters, the attendance of the company’s employees has been low. Sources said the attendance was lower on Thursday, adding that routine work at the company has been suspended since the investigation was launched.
The employees that do go to work appear to be afraid of facing the journalists camped outside the head office. Every employee tries to leave the premises discreetly.
“I don’t think the senior employees will resume their jobs,” an employee conjectured. He said every member of the staff, from top to bottom, felt insecure in the present circumstances. “How can an employee face the FIA’s questions and the media’s cameras?”
Dubai office closed
In a major twist to the fake degree scam, UAE daily Khaleej Times has found out that Axact’s offices in Dubai have remained closed for more than two years.
Khaleej Times visited three locations listed as Axact offices in online business directories and found only one bearing the company’s name: a small leased space inside a business centre managed by Tecom in Dubai Media City is all that remains of Axact’s Dubai operations.
“Nobody has visited this office in the last two years and it hasn’t been opened even once,” said a security guard working at a business centre leased by Axact. “The owner is never here, but we do receive a few couriers occasionally.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2015.