–FIA DG tells CJP appeals against acquittal of Axact executives accused in fake degree scam yet to be taken up by courts
–CJP withdraws order to put Shoaib Sheikh, other accused on ECL after assurances from some journalists from Bol TV
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday directed the high courts in Sindh and Islamabad to promptly decide the pending cases regarding the Axact fake degree scandal, as it rescinded its order to put the names of all the accused on the Exit Control List (ECL).
The court ordered Shaikh, who is also the owner of Bol Network, to submit a written reply in the case and hand over his passport to the Sindh High Court. The bench took back its order to place names of the accused on ECL on the request of senior journalists, including Sami Ibrahim and Javed Soomro, and directed Shaikh to submit a written guarantee that he would not leave the country.
Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar conducted a hearing of the suo motu notice of the Axact scam. He maintained that Pakistan’s reputation is at stake but the investigation in the case is quite weak and frail.
Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Director General Basheer Memon told the court that the websites of at least 330 universities are being operated by Axact but they have no campuses.
He said that Axact is not affiliated with the said universities while a person can receive any degree from the website on the basis of experience in an hour and at the cost of Rs500,000.
“I possess the experience in law. Can I receive a PhD degree?” the CJP inquired. “Yes, you can receive the degree of law and English on the basis of experience,” replied Memon. He also told the judge that Axact has its own platform which conducts accreditation.
The CJP remarked that universities are established under a law while the Axact degree process was ongoing from 2006-2015.
“If the information is correct then a fraud was committed by the people. FIA initiated the investigation when the news came on media. What can the FIA do to prove the crime?” he asked.
Memon responded that the accused were acquitted by the IHC at which the CJP asked about the veracity of rumours about the judge in the case being paid for granting bails to the accused.
“Did the FIA presented evidence in the IHC?” questioned CJP.
Memon replied that the appeal is still pending following which the registrar IHC told that the February 22 has been set for hearing of the petition.
Furthermore, the CJP also directed the SHC to constitute a bench to hear the case decide over it within a month.
As proceedings began on Friday, a two-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Nisar ordered to place the name of Axact chief Shoaib Shaikh and six other accused on the Exit Control List (ECL).
However, the order was taken back on the assurances of the accused and some journalists associated with Axact’s sister concern, Bol News, that they will stay in the country.
The court was informed that around 70 per cent of the company’s revenue comes from the said universities, while the software export company also has nine other business units.
Expressing displeasure at the Peshawar High Court (PHC) registrar’s absence from court despite clear orders, the CJP took a suo moto notice of the fake degree case in the PHC and ordered FIA to file an appeal in the case.
The SC also directed the lower courts to suspend bails of the accused if they do not cooperate with the courts.
Bol Television’s former employees, who were also present in the court, said that they have not been paid since 2015. “There are around 40 affected people in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, and many others across the country,” the employees said.
The Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) also filed an application in the court highlighting irregularities in Axact’s businesses and its linkages with Labbaik media house, which operates Bol.
Shoaib Shaikh was then issued a notice by the SC to submit his reply on the application by the PBA, while the channel’s former employees were also asked to submit an application.
“We will decide the case after looking at both sides,” the CJP remarked, before adjourning the hearing for two weeks.
Chief Justice Nisar had taken suo motu notice of the Axact fake degree scandal last month after international news reports said over 3,000 UK citizens had purchased fake degrees from Axact in 2013 and 2014.
The recent news came just months after an in-depth investigation by Canada’s national broadcaster uncovered that hundreds of people working in diverse fields across Canada possess bogus degrees issued by Axact.