ISLAMABAD: Although the fake degree scandal of Axact company appears to have escaped the accountability net in Pakistan, it continues to make headlines in other countries where the victims are showing up and the company’s executives facing fines and imprisonment.
Axact has come under microscopic scrutiny in North America and the company’s vice president Umair Hamid has been jailed by a court in New York for 21 months in addition to a fine of Rs558 million for his role in the fake degree scandal while a TV channel has unearthed the Axact’s network in Canada.
The CBC News, a leading TV network of Canada, has carried out an indepth investigation that found many Canadians victims of the fake-degree business. A team of its investigative journalists spent months combing through thousands of fake degree transactions and “obtained business records of its biggest player, a Pakistan-based IT firm called Axact”.
The probe conducted by Marketplace, an investigative news programme of this television network, revealed that “more than 800 Canadians could have purchased a fake degree”. A former FBI agent Allen Ezel, who investigated the fake degree business for decades, was quite revealing: He told the CBC News: “Keep in mind this is just the one operation. This doesn’t give you totality of how many are being sold throughout Canada by all schools that are operating.”
Allen estimated half the new PhD degrees issued in the United States are also fake which in turn also devalue the legitimate degrees that students have obtained after years of hard work.“Axact’s school websites are slick, and names like Harvey University, Barkley University and Nixon University give the supposed US-based schools an air of Ivy League authenticity,” reported the CBC News and estimated hundreds of Axact-linked schools that offer a range of educational opportunities with faculty ready to assist 24/7.
Some Axact-run universities have a degree verification department, the report goes on, for any third-party requesting transcripts or proof of attendance. “But none of the schools has a physical address, faculty photos are often stock images, and even the accreditation bodies the websites cite are fake,” reported the Canadian TV on its website about the Axact’s fake degree business. One can often qualify for high school diplomas, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees or PhDs based on “life experience” and can purchase them for as little as a few hundred dollars, the investigation by Canadian TV has found.
The journalists investigated this scam enrolled themselves for the Axact-run companies to see what it takes to get a fake degree as they decided to purchase a PhD in biblical counselling from the fraudulent Almeda University. Initially, they were told that the PhD degree in psychology and in biblical counselling each was for sale in $3,200. After negotiation, the price tag was lowered to $2,500.
Pakistani authorities raided Axact’s office after a ground-breaking investigation by the New York Times that unfolded the entire operation of fake degrees. The company was then shut down and hundreds of thousands of blank degrees and other documents from the Karachi office were confiscated. The company’s top management was charged and none was convicted as prosecutors dealing with the case were harassed and four of them left in mysterious circumstances.
While no conviction took place in Pakistan, the FBI arrested Axact’s vice president Umair Hamid in December 2016 who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in New York’s South District Court. He was sentenced in August to 21-month imprisonment and was ordered to forfeit Rs558 million. “Despite conviction, it appears to be business as usual for many of Axact’s schools,” the Canadian TV reported.