- Shoaib Shaikh, 23 others to face 20 years in jail under different charges besides Rs 1.3m each in fines
- Shaikh’s wife, two retired colonels get acquitted as judge absolves Axact chief of money laundering, electronic crimes
ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad district and session judge on Thursday sentenced Axact Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Shoaib Shaikh and 23 other employees of the company to jail and imposed a fine of Rs 1.3 million each in a case pertaining to the sale of fake degrees.
The offenders were sentenced to three years imprisonment besides Rs 0.1 million fine under Section 419 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC); three years and 0.2m fine under Section 420; seven years and Rs0.5m fine under Section 468; and another seven years and Rs0.5m fine under Section 471 of the CrPC.
However, all sentences will run concurrently—reducing the total period of imprisonment to seven years at most. While the total amount of the fine to be paid is Rs 1.3m by each of the offenders.
Judge Mumtaz Hussain, however, acquitted Shaikh’s wife, Ayesha, Col (r) Younis and Col (r) Jamil. Shaikh and the other convicts were absolved of charges pertaining to electronic crimes and money laundering.
The FIA maintained before the court that an inquiry dated May 19, 2015 was started against Axact Ltd Islamabad region for preparing and selling degrees of fake online educational institutions with fake accreditation bodies and enticing innocent people through impersonation as student counsellors within Pakistan and abroad.
FIA’s special prosecutor Syed Ashfaq Naqvi argued that the software company sold fictitious degrees to different people in Pakistan and abroad and brought a bad name to the country. He said the FIA had conducted a thorough probe and after completing due procedure filed the challan against the convicts in the trial court.
In October 2016, Shaikh and 27 others were acquitted by Additional District and Sessions Judge (ADSJ) Pervaizul Qadir Memon. Later, on February 15, 2018, the judge was sacked due to his admission of receiving Rs5 million bribe for acquitting the accused. Subsequently, the Islamabad High Court in April set aside the verdict and ordered for a retrial in the case.
Soon afterwards, the FIA filed a plea against Shaikh’s acquittal in 2016, arguing that he was cleared of the charges by the trial court despite concrete evidence proving his involvement in money laundering.
Axact first came into the limelight in 2015 when a New York Times report titled “Fake Diplomas, Real Cash: Pakistani Company Axact Reaps Millions” outlined how the “secretive Pakistani software company” had allegedly earned millions of dollars from scams involving fake degrees, non-existent online universities and manipulation of customers.
According to the report, Axact had created a series of fake websites involving “professors” and students who it said were in fact paid actors.
Following the international media reports concerning scandal, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had taken a suo motu notice of the degree scandal. According to reports, 3,000 UK citizens had purchased fake degrees from Axact in 2013 and 2014.
Umair Hamid, a vice president of Axact, was last year sentenced to 21 months in prison in the US for his role in the international diploma mill scheme. In addition to the prison term, Hamid, 31, from Karachi, was ordered to forfeit $5,303,020. He had pleaded guilty on April 6, 2017 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.