The Supreme Court on Monday observed that at this point it would be incorrect to say that there is no evidence of money laundering against Shoaib Sheikh — the CEO of controversial 'IT company' Axact.
The observation was made by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa while hearing Sheikh's appeal regarding the rejection of his bail by Sindh High Court.
On February 26, the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) had arrested Sheikh after the SHC rejected his bail request and accepted the agency's appeal against his earlier acquittal in a money laundering case.
During the hearing, Sheikh's lawyer insisted that his client and the company were not involved in any money laundering.
"All of the money my client brought into the country was through legal channels," the counsel said.
"The problem is not with the money that was brought into the country, it is with the money that was taken out of the country," Justice Khosa said while asking the counsel to explain why Sheikh wrote 116 cheques worth Rs170 million.
"The cheques were written between 2014 and 2015 for various vendors, including a courier company," the lawyer said while adding that Sheikh was arrested by the authorities in 2015.
" At this point, how can we say that there was no money laundering," Justice Khosa said.
Unable to satisfy the court on the matter, Sheikh withdrew his appeal against the SHC order as well as a fresh application for bail which he had entered in the apex court.
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 SC 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.
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.