ISLAMABAD (Web Desk) – Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Tuesday ordered an immediate inquiry into a special report published by The New York Times about Pakistani IT company Axact that claimed that the company was in business of fake degrees as part of a massive, global scam.
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Taking notice of the scandal, Ch Nisar directed the FIA to submit a report after a thorough investigation. In his directive, the minister 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, an interior ministry spokesman said.
The report, which quoted former employees and analysed more than 370 websites of fake universities, accreditation bodies and other purported institutions, sparked a wave of criticism on social media even as the company denied wrongdoing.
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 the “secretive Pakistani software company” in the article – allegedly earned millions of dollars from scams involving fake degrees, non-existent online universities and manipulation of customers.
According to the report, Axact created a series of fake websites involving “professors” and students who it said were in fact paid actors.
SENATE ORDERS PROBE
Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani on Tuesday also referred the NYT report to the Senate house committee for investigation.
“A story has been published in the newspapers attributed to Pakistan, and Shoaib Ahmad Shaikh of BOL network has every right to clarify,” opposition leader in Senate, Aitzaz Ahsan, said.
However, he added: “It is shameful to hear such kind of news. Unfortunately, it is linked to Pakistanis.”
Aitzaz said that this was a “sensitive” matter because a Pakistani company had allegedly been issuing fake degrees, according to newspaper reports.
“Why is that we Pakistanis are so experts in forgery? The matter has to go to the house committee,” Aitzaz said.
The Senate chairman, after hearing the matter, observed that the issue raised was of importance. He referred the matter to the house committee and ordered an investigation.
OPPOSITION DEMANDS CLARITY
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi also demanded a fair and free inquiry into the issue, saying that the scandal brought bad name to the country. He urged the interior minister to brief the National Assembly about the scandal.
RESPONSE FROM AXACT
Soon after the report was published, a message on Axact’s website declared the story “baseless, substandard, maligning, defamatory, and based on false accusations” and added it would sue The New York Times.
In the statement on its website, Axact did not directly respond to the allegations but instead accused domestic media rivals of colluding with the New York Times to plant a slanderous story in order to harm its business interests.
The response also alleged that Declan Walsh had devised a “one-sided story” without taking any input from the company.
Axact also uploaded a detailed legal notice sent to NYT. The company also sent a legal notice to local blogging website Pak Tea House, which caused a buzz on social media. NYT also ran a short report on the Pak Tea House legal notice titled, “Axact, Fake Diploma Company, Threatens Pakistani Bloggers Who Laugh at Its Expense”.
The company has said it will launch a news channel named Bol this year, which has already lured many of Pakistan’s top TV anchors and journalists with reportedly the highest salaries in the market.
The “university” websites mainly route their traffic through servers run by companies registered in Cyprus and Latvia, and employees would plant fictitious reports about Axact universities on CNN iReport, a website for citizen journalism.
The article cited clients from the US, Britain and the United Arab Emirates who had paid sums ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars for their degrees – with some believing the universities were real and they would soon receive coursework.