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Friday Feb 09 2018

SC orders SHC, IHC to decide on pending cases against Axact within weeks


ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court ordered on Friday the high courts hearing the Axact fake degree cases to wrap up the appeals against the suspects' acquittal within a matter of weeks. 

As the apex court resumed hearing its suo motu notice of the Axact fake degree scandal, a two-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Mian Saqib Nisar ordered to place the name of Axact chief Shoaib Shaikh and the six other accused on the Exit Control List (ECL). 

However, the order was taken back on the assurances of the accused to stay in the country and intervention of some journalists. 

During the hearing, the chief justice directed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to decide on the government's appeal against the suspects' acquittal in three weeks. Similarly, the Sindh High Court (SHC) was directed to form a two-member bench next week and decide on the appeal within 15 days. 

The apex court also directed the trial court in Karachi to decide on the prosecution's plea seeking cancellation of the suspects' bail in two weeks.

Axact CEO Shoaib Shaikh arrives in the Supreme Court today. Photo: Geo News

The chief executive and senior officials of Axact, which claims to be the "world's largest IT company" but operates hundreds of fake online universities, were arrested on charges of fraud in May 2015 after an expose` in The New York Times. 

At present, of the total four cases registered against the company, the accused have been acquitted in two — one in Islamabad and another in Karachi — while one is under way in Karachi and the last, in Peshawar, is yet to start.  

Won't let my nation be embarrassed like this: CJP 

Moreover, Memon informed the bench that the accused were exonerated in the fraud case in Islamabad, the appeal of which is pending in the IHC. The IHC registrar informed the bench that the appeal has been fixed for February 22. The chief justice then directed for the inclusion of Justice Miangul Hasan Aurangzeb in the one-member bench of Justice Athar Minallah which was to hear the case.

The chief justice inquired into the identity of the Islamabad trial court judge and observed that there were rumours he had been bribed by the accused. The IHC registrar informed the bench of the judge — Additional District and Sessions Judge Pervez-ul-Qadir Memon. 

Hearing this, the chief justice remarked that the judge appears to be a relative of the FIA DG, to which Memon said he’s embarrassed of his relations with the judge. 

Chief Justice Nisar also expressed displeasure at the failure of the Peshawar High Court registrar to show up in court today and issued notices to him to appear in court on Monday.

The chief justice remarked that he will not let his nation be embarrassed like this. 

'A degree cost $5,000 and was given in an hour'

As the proceedings began today, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Director General Bashir Memon appeared in court. When the chief justice asked about the nature of Axact's business and registration, Memon said the company was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan around July 2006 and says it exports software.

The bench was informed further that Axact operated 330 universities but they all existed on a webpage only. Memon added that 70 per cent of its revenue was from online universities.

"A degree from Axact cost $5,000," the FIA chief said, adding that it would be given within an hour. 

The hearing was then adjourned for two weeks. 

The chief justice had taken suo motu notice of the scandal on January 19.

Axact claims to be the "world's largest IT company" and operates hundreds of fake online universities run by agents from a Karachi-based call centre. In 2015, it sold more than 215,000 fake qualifications globally through approximately 350 fictitious high schools and universities, making $51m (£37.5m) that year alone.

A senior manager of the company, Umair Hamid, was sentenced to 21 months in a US prison in August 2017 for his part in Axact's fraud. 


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