How the Axact case has been compromised

Umar Cheema

ISLAMABAD: As the Chief Justice Saqib Nisar-led bench today takes up the FIA report on Axact scandal due to which, he remarked, “our heads are bowed in shame”, focus on the following questions will unravel the thread of realities and how the case has been compromised.

Question of the foremost importance relates to money laundering. Why the FIA report is silent on the trail of money laundering and illegal offshore accounts in the UAE and the US when information is available with it? For reference, detail of illegal offshore accounts and entire money trail of Axact have been mentioned in interim challan, however, conspicuous by their absence in the report submitted before the SC.

Why does the report deliberately conceal and suppress the FBI letter dated February 8, 2016? That letter, a damning evidence, confirms the fraud and “nefarious activity”; “the sale of fictitious college and high school diplomas”; “Axact has established a worldwide web of shell companies and associates”; “the shell companies have been used to veil Axact funds and proceeds”; “to further facilitate the transport of the fictitious diplomas, as well as to enhance the illusion that the diplomas were from legitimate educational institutions (e.g., via securing fictitious accreditation either within the United States or abroad)” and confirming the names of shareholders, shareholding and company names of the off shore illegal entities used by Axact for illegal activities and money laundering.”

Why the information received from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is missing in the report submitted before the Supreme Court? As a backgrounder, the FTC shared complaints it had received from the victims of Axact-run universities but the FIA didn’t submit that record before any court. Now, the Supreme Court has been told that 4,000 students were contacted for recording the evidence but the effort didn’t yield any result. On the other hand, it altogether ignored the statements of victims shared by the FTC. Nor an effort has been made to obtain court record from the US where students of Axact-run Belford School recorded evidence. Also, the audio recording found from the Axact House of conversation between the students and representatives of so-called online universities have not been shared with the apex court.

Why does the report submitted before the Supreme Court conceal the fact that currently operational 84 websites of Axact-run universities were discovered by the FIA at the start of investigation in 2015 but let them continue unhindered? The FIA was supposed to have either blocked or got their registration transferred in their own name to prevent misuse. Neither was done. Now, when FIA admits they are operational, no fresh FIR has been registered against Axact for resuming the illegal business.

Why the FIA didn’t freeze all the bank accounts of Axact when ordered by a district court which was further upheld by the higher courts? As a backgrounder, district judge of Karachi South had issued the order of freezing bank accounts in July 2015. Shahid Hayat, the-then director FIA Karachi, allowed the freezing of 44 accounts and let remain functional the remaining 56 accounts. When challenged in the Sindh High Court, the then chief justice Sajjad Shah (now in Supreme Court) had upheld the district court’s verdict. Nevertheless, the remaining accounts were not frozen. Incidentally, as many as four bank accounts were frozen in the US on the basis of evidence acquired from Pakistan by the lawyers of a class lawsuit in the US against Axact-run Belford High School. That lawsuit was filed on behalf of Axact’s victims in the US.

Why four prosecutors of the FIA in Axact case quit in mysterious circumstances? This all started on January 18, 2016 when Barrister Zahid Jamil, credited for building up the case, left due to the circumstances in which he was unable to proceed in the interest of preservation of “my professional conduct”.

Shoaib Sheikh couldn’t manage to secure bail so long as Zahid was the prosecutor. What happened on the day he was drafting final challan that led towards his resignation can only be explained by him. Another three prosecutors who were assigned the case after Zahid also left. They are Shahab Osto, Haq Nawaz Talpur and Shahabuddin Gandapur.

“There were disturbing signs that we sensed,” Shahab had then told The News. When asked to explain the disturbing signs, he replied: “You know the circumstances of Karachi.”

Originally published in The News