By Courtney Trenwith
Officials have confiscated computers and held employees for questioning over The New York Times’ claims the firm netted millions of dollars selling fake degrees including to UAE residents
Pakistani investigators have raided a media firm accused of running a global fake degree empire that netted millions of dollars from victims, some of which were based in the UAE.
Officials said they confiscated computers and held employees for questioning, AFP reported, while the company, Axact, continued to deny any wrongdoing.
The New York Times has accused Axact of creating websites that used paid actors to promote bogus universities and then selling fake degrees in those universities’ names, complete with signatures that included that of US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officers swooped on the Karachi headquarters of the company, seizing equipment and records and expelling employees from the building, a member of the raiding party told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The company’s Rawalpindi office also was sealed and employees were being questioned at the site, an official said.
So far no one has been charged with any crime.
“The raid is still ongoing,” Mehmood ul Hassan, acting director of the FIA’s cyber crime wing, told AFP.
“Our team is gathering evidence. Our director general will release all details about the raid once it’s completed.”
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had earlier told the agency to investigate “if the said company is involved in any such illegal work which can tarnish the good image of the country in the world”.
The New York Times said the company created a series of websites involving “professors” and students who were in fact paid actors and employees who would plant fictitious reports about Axact “universities” on CNN iReport, a website for citizen journalism.
Clients from the US, UK and the UAE were cited as having had paid sums ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars for their degrees, believing the universities were real and they would soon receive coursework.
Axact and its CEO, Shoaib Ahmad Shaikh, did not respond to requests from AFP for comment on Monday or Tuesday.
But a message on its website declared the story “baseless, substandard, maligning, defamatory, and based on false accusations” and added it would sue the New York Times.
The message did not directly address the allegations but accused domestic media rivals of colluding with the US newspaper to plant a slanderous story in order to harm its business interests.