The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday suspended Axact's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Shoaib Sheikh's 20-year jail term and granted him bail against surety bonds worth Rs500,000.
In July, an Islamabad sessions court had convicted Sheikh and 22 others in the fake degree scam case and awarded 20 years imprisonment under different charges. The judge also imposed a fine of Rs1.3 million on each of the convicts.
Sheikh and the others were nominated in a First Information Report (FIR) lodged against them on June 7, 2015 under Sections 419, 420, 468, 471, 473, 109/34 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 4 of Anti-Money Laundering Act 2010.
Subsequently, Sheikh challenged his conviction before the Islamabad High Court.
Shaikh's counsel Raja Rizwan Abbasi asked the court to suspend the sentence till the appeal against the trial court's decision in concluded. In his arguments, the lawyer pointed to what he called some grave legal mistakes in the decision.
Justice Athar Minallah observed that there is no complainant in the case. "The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) says that hundreds of thousands of people were defrauded but not even a single victim lodged a complaint," he said. The judge also observed that the prosecution failed to prove that the degrees were fake.
The Axact saga
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.