The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday overturned the acquittal of Axact chief executive officer Shoaib Sheikh and other officials of the company in the fake degrees case by a sessions court.
A two-member bench of the court comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb announced the verdict on an appeal of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) against the acquittal.
Ordering a retrial of the case, the IHC ordered the sessions judge Islamabad (West) to decide the matter after hearing all the arguments afresh.
However, the court extended some relief to the accused by leaving open the option for them to submit new surety bonds to secure bail and avoid arrest.
During a hearing of the appeal last month, a law officer of the federal government had requested the IHC to order retrial of the Axact CEO and other officials of his IT company because they had been acquitted by a district and sessions judge after receiving a bribe.
Deputy Attorney General Raja Khalid Mehmood Khan had said that despite admission of additional district and sessions judge (ADSJ) Pervaizul Qadir Memon that he had taken a bribe for issuing a favourable verdict, the judgement was still intact.
Besides Axact, Sheikh also owns Bol TV network.
ADSJ Memon had acquitted Sheikh and others in the fake degrees case on October 31, 2016. Later the judge was sacked on February 15, 2018 due to his admission of receiving Rs5 million bribe for acquitting the accused.
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.
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.
In January, Chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar had taken suo motu notice of the Axact fake degree scandal after international news reports said over 3,000 UK citizens had purchased fake degrees from Axact in 2013 and 2014.
That news had come just months after an in-depth investigation by Canada's national broadcaster uncovered that hundreds of people working in diverse fields across Canada possess bogus degrees issued by Axact.