The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Monday arrested Axact Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Shoaib Sheikh after the Sindh High Court (SHC) accepted the agency's appeal against his earlier acquittal in a money laundering case.

Setting aside an earlier decision by a district and sessions court, the SHC ordered that the case be heard again by a trial court. The district and sessions court had acquitted Sheikh in the case in 2016.

Following the acceptance of its appeal, FIA officials had set up pickets at the court's exits to arrest Sheikh.

Axact CEO Shoaib Sheikh at the Sindh High Court on Monday. — DawnNews
Axact CEO Shoaib Sheikh at the Sindh High Court on Monday. — DawnNews

The Axact chief, along with his lawyers, had holed up inside the court's premises for several hours to avoid arrest. His counsels had meanwhile insisted that the court had not ordered for Sheikh's arrest and that he should be given time to approach a court for bail.

During this period, Sheikh had also applied for interim bail, arguing that the FIA should be barred from arresting him. The Axact chief had assured the court that he was ready to face trial in the lower courts, but the court turned down the plea.

Earlier acquittal

The Axact CEO has been accused by the FIA of having illegally transferred Rs170.17 million to a Dubai-based firm, Chanda Exchange Company, in April 2014.

The Supreme Court had taken notice of the money laundering case after the fake degree scandal involving Axact re-emerged last month. The apex court had subsequently directed the Sindh and Islamabad high courts to to promptly decide all pending cases against the company.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) had subsequently removed additional district and sessions judge (ADSJ) Pervaizul Qadir Memon from service for acquitting Sheikh in the fake degree case.

According to a show-cause notice issued by the IHC registrar, Memon had confessed before Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kiyani that he had acquitted the accused after accepting a bribe.

Suo motu

The Axact scandal had surfaced in May 2015, when The New York Times published a report that claimed the company sold fake diplomas and degrees online through hundreds of fictitious schools, making “tens of millions of dollars annually”.

Subsequently, the offices of Axact were sealed, its CEO and key officials were arrested and a probe was launched on the basis of the allegations leveled by NYT.

In January 2018, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had taken suo motu notice of the Axact fake degree scandal after international news reports once again revealed that over 3,000 UK citizens had purchased fake degrees from Axact in 2013 and 2014.

The 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 also possessed bogus degrees issued by Axact.

In its last hearing, the court had ordered the Sindh and Islamabad high courts to promptly decide on the pending cases against Axact.

The chief justice had directed the SHC to constitute a bench to hear the case within a week and give the verdict within two weeks.