The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested Axact CEO Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh late Tuesday night after investigators found hundreds of thousands of forged degrees and students ID cards from a secret office of the company in Karachi.
Television footage showed several law enforcement officials escorting Shaikh out of the Axact office and taking him away in a car, reportedly, to the FIA’s human trafficking detention centre.
Piles of degree templates from different universities were seen stacked in rooms at the building, where the New York Times exposé last week said a worldwide, multimillion-dollar fake diploma empire was being run by Axact. The inquiry against the firm was ordered by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan a day after the article was published.
In a late-night swoop, FIA Sindh Director-General Shahid Hayat along with a team of Sindh police’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU) led by DSP Amir Hameed arrived at the Axact Karachi office. The action came hours after investigators had just completed their interrogation of Shaikh continuing since 11am on Tuesday morning.
Speaking to the media, Hayat said hundreds of thousands of templates of fake degrees of different universities were found at the office after the FIA received information about the site of Axact’s printing operations.
“We were informed about the place of Axact’s printing operation. The office was opened in the presence of a magistrate and degrees and student ID cards were found in the hundreds of thousands,” he said. “There is enough evidence to lodge a case against Axact and it will be registered against the firm’s CEO.”
Shaikh, along with six directors of the company, was taken into custody by FIA. A case was registered against him and Axact with sections related to money-laundering and cyber crimes incorporated in the FIR. Hayat said Shaikh would be presented in a court for a remand today.
Apart from the degrees, thousands of accreditation certificates and students cards were also found at the office, where the investigators raided in the presence of Judicial Magistrate Javed Malik.
The NYT report had accused the Karachi-based firm of not only issuing fake diplomas and degrees from a host of online universities but also running a bogus, parallel accreditation system, which in some instances even carried verifications from the US State Department with forged signatures of John Kerry.
Malik told the media that the Axact CEO had pointed out the location of the printing press himself.
An official close to the ongoing investigations said that Shaikh had misbehaved with the FIA personnel in the evening after which the interior minister gave the orders to book him.
Sources told The Express Tribune that the FIA team headed by Inspector Mobin was stopped at the entrance of Axact office in DHA in the evening. Later the FIA sought assistance from the SIU.
Earlier on Tuesday, the FIA’s Corporate Crime Circle (CCC) continued interrogating the Axact CEO for the second consecutive day, with officials claiming that enough evidence had been found against him, but prior permission was needed from the Federal Interior Ministry.
“We have found evidence such as stamps and degrees, which prove that the company was involved in the fake degrees scam but we are just interrogating him and obtaining his statement,” said one FIA official on the condition of anonymity.
The FIA had summoned Shaikh and at least four more Axact directors, who were interrogated by officials, including FIA Sindh Director Shahid Hayat, CCC Director Kamran Ataullah and Cybercrime Circle Director Ashfaq Alam, regarding the bogus degree scam and other issues.
On Monday also, Shaikh had spent several hours at the FIA headquarters explaining his position and was called in again at 11am on Tuesday for further questioning. The interrogation continued for several hours till midnight before he was arrested.
The FIA is investigating the details of Axact’s accounts in at least five banks. A plea for protective bail moved by Shaikh was rejected by the Sindh High Court a few days ago.
The offices of Axact and the building where the printing operation was based have been sealed.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2015.
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