Pakistan’s fake Degree Kingpin Arrested

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Karachi: Shoaib Ahmad Shaikh- the man behind a worldwide, multimillion-dollar fake diploma empire run from Karachi in Pakistan, has been arrested. Exactly 10 days after the New York Times exposé of the “breathtaking scam,” being run by his company ‘Axact’, which called itself “Pakistan’s largest software exporter”, Shaikh was taken into custody by Pakistani authorities in a late-night swoop on Tuesday, 26 May. Hundreds of thousands of templates of fake degrees of different universities were reportedly seized from Shaikh’s office after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) received information about the site of Axact’s printing operations. The NYT report had accused Axact 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 Secretary of State, John Kerry.

Action against Axact kicked off after Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan ordered an inquiry into the story published by The New York Times that claimed the company was issuing fake degrees as part of a massive, global scam. The minister in his directive also said that the FIA was to determine whether the contents of the NYT story were true and whether the company was involved in any illegal business which may bring a “bad name” to Pakistan.

The detailed NYT report titled “Fake Diplomas, Real Cash: Pakistani Company Axact Reaps Millions” and written by New York Times Pakistan bureau chief Declan Walsh outlined how Axact- referred to as a “secretive Pakistani software company” – allegedly earned millions of dollars from scams involving fake degrees, non-existent online universities and manipulation of customers.

The report said Axact created a series of fake websites involving “professors” and students who it said were in fact paid actors. FIA officers swooped on the Karachi headquarters of the company last week, seizing equipment and records and expelling employees from the building.

The company’s Rawalpindi office had also been sealed and employees questioned, an official said requesting anonymity. The interior minister also assured that the ministry would not succumb to pressure from any individual regarding investigation of the Axact scandal. He added that the investigation would be fair and transparent.

The NYT report published on 17 May had said about Exact that, “Seen from the Internet, it is a vast education empire: hundreds of universities and high schools, with elegant names and smiling professors at sun-dappled American campuses”. But it went on to say that “Yet on closer examination, this picture shimmers like a mirage. The news reports are fabricated. The professors are paid actors. The university campuses exist only as stock photos on computer servers. The degrees have no true accreditation.

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