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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court on Wednesday overturned the acquittal of Axact chief executive officer Shoaib Sheikh and other officials of the company in the fake degrees case and remanded it to the sessions court for retrial.

Additional District and Sessions Judge (ADSJ) Pervaizul Qadir Memon had acquitted Mr Sheikh and his 27 associates on Oct 31, 2016. However, the sessions judge was dismissed from service for taking bribe before delivering the verdict.

The verdict was announced on an appeal filed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) against the acquittal.

The 16-page judgement, authored by an IHC division bench comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan, declared: “The impugned judgement is vitiated on the sole ground of the pecuniary interest of the presiding judge against whom the charge of accepting illegal gratification stands established.”

The court, however, declared that the accused, who are on bail, must furnish fresh surety bonds to the trial court.

In its appeal, the FIA had maintained that the judgement was a result of “misreading”. The agency had produced 23 witnesses and volumes of documents before the sessions court, but the ADSJ did not consider the evidence, the petitioner contended.

The FIA’s special prosecutor Hamid Ali Shah and Ishfaq Naqvi had argued that since a major penalty had been imposed on the trial judge, the case must be tried afresh.

The defence counsel, on the other hand, contended that the accused never paid any bribe to the judge and that the sacked judge had also filed an appeal against his dismissal. The counsel were of the view that the proceedings were initiated against the accused at the behest of their rivals and that they were a victim of propaganda.

They further argued that judge Memon had conducted a fair trial and acquitted the Axact officials on merit, saying that there was a difference between a “biased judge” and a “biased trial”.

An FIR was lodged against all respondents on June 7, 2015, under Sections 419, 420, 468, 471, 473, 109/34 and 4 of the Anti- Money Laundering Act of 2010.

The FIA said that a case was registered against M/s Axact Islamabad region on May 19, 2015, for preparing and selling degrees of fake online educational institutions with fake accreditation bodies, enticing innocent people through impersonation as student counsellors within Pakistan and abroad. Consequently, a raid was conducted on Axact’s DHA office in Karachi.

According to the petitioner, Axact’s regional head, retired colonel Jameel Ahmad, retired Lt Col M. Younis and other officials could not defend their online fast-track prior learning assessment education operation before a judge.

Statements of some of the employees clearly showed that their sale agents pretended to be highly qualified student counsellors of non-existent educational institutes in the United States.

Babar Awan, Raja Rizwan Abbasi and Sohail Akhtar Warriach appeared before the court on behalf of the Axact company.

They were of the view that the trial judge had acquitted the accused after examining the available evidence and the order of Oct 31, 2016, could not be reversed or set aside.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2018