Pakistani law enforcement agencies raided the offices of an IT company last week, following a New York Times report that the company was making millions of dollars by selling fake online degrees and diplomas.
Officials are now probing the accounts of Karachi-based Axact after seizing electronic devices, computers, and records. In one room, authorities say they found hundreds of thousands of blank certificates printed with the letterheads of fake schools run by the company.
The investigation follows an in-depth New York Times article by Declan Walsh that alleges Axact created "a vast education empire" by selling diplomas for as much as $4,000 and degrees from hundreds of high schools and colleges that do not exist—a charge the company denies.
Walsh says news reports on the schools' websites are fake, professors are actors, stock photos depict "campuses," employees impersonate American government officials, and degrees lack accreditation.
Former employees told Walsh that some customers understand they are buying a "shady instant degree." But others are deceived by sales agents into believing they are enrolling in a legitimate program—for which "coursework never materializes."
In a statement, Axact calls Walsh's story "baseless, substandard, maligning, defamatory, and based on false accusations and merely a figment of imagination published without taking the company’s point of view."
A safety threat
For years, the prevalence of online degree schemes has worried many that they may pose a threat in immigration fraud—as well as within legal and security systems.
In 2007, a fake United Kingdom police criminologist—who held a degree from Axact-owned Rochville University—was convicted on 20 charges. Over 26 years he worked on 700 cases, all of which had to be reviewed following the case.
Last Wednesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced that he ordered an inquiry into the New York Times allegations. The country's Federal Investigation Agency seized control of the Axact's offices in three cities and arrested owner Shoaib Shaikh along with other employees.
The interior minister said the investigation may also include money laundering. The decision whether or not a criminal report will be filed will be made by early next week (Amjad Khan, University World News, 5/21; Walsh, New York Times, 5/17; BBC News, 2/22/2007; Boone, AP/The Guardian, 5/27; Imtiaz, New York Times, 5/23; Imtiaz/Walsh, New York Times, 5/27).
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