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May 11, 2020

Axact still in business, claims ex-FBI head of diploma scam task force

Top Story

May 11, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Axact – the notorious Pakistan-based firm – has restarted selling fake degrees/diplomas all over the world, five years after an investigation was launched to trace the firm’s alleged crimes.

A former FBI agent has alerted Pakistani mission in Washington about the Axact resumption of selling fake degrees/diplomas with full scope again in a letter addressed to Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Dr. Asad Majeed Khan. ”Axact is in business today, doing what they have for the past 16 years. Degree sales range from $199 to over . . . for single victims. Axact’s main target for their degree and transcript sales, followed by the reported up-sell (blackmail and extortion) continues to be the Middle East (56+%), followed by the United States (29%). I believe 100,000+ diplomas and transcripts have been sold in the United States alone via the Axact call centers in Pakistan. Local sales were at least:83+ in the District of Columbia, 2,632+ in the State of Maryland, and 1,723 + in the State of Virginia. As is customary, these were probably accompanied by notary attestations, Embassy seals and stamps, and U.S. DOS Apostille Attestations (most likely all counterfeit)," wrote Allen Ezell, FBI Agent (retd.), who was also head of FBI’s DipScam diploma-mill task force.

"Axact touts its fake schools as being American, utilising many addresses and telephone numbers in the United States, along with the ‘U.S. Presidential Scholarship’ as bait to attract new students. To further this ‘American’ illusion, many of these web sites contain pictures of the U.S. Capitol building, along with the American flag appearing numerous times on these web sites," claimed Mr. Allen Ezell in his five-page letter dispatched to Pakistan Embassy in Washington.

"While Axact was changing its name on the front of their building (cosmetic only), their employees inside never left their desks nor stopped selling fake degrees. As its employees sit in their cubes selling diplomas on both old and new fake schools, along with other scams, the name of their employer was being changed on their building ID cards---Axact has increased its online education business to accommodate the millions of students, who because of the pandemic, can no longer attend their traditional brick and mortar schools, now turn to the Internet," claimed the former FBI agent further in his blog published online with the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. website on 22nd April, last month.

"5,000 student inquiries per month with about 40% ‘enrollment. Monthly gross revenue is close to $2,000,000. As a sales incentive, a $10,000 bonus is being offered when there has been $1,000,000 in sales for a single school. Axact has about 900 employees at their Karachi and Islamabad call centers working mainly on their fake classes scheme. They advertise via pop ups and banners in social media including facebook. They lure their victims through ‘spider web’ type sites by type of profession, or field of interest, such aswww.gulfonlineeducation.com, www.onlineengineeringguide.com and www.onlinedegreeprofs.com," he added further in his blog.

When this correspondent approached former FBI agent to know his point of view pertaining to his claim/allegations made in this blog as well as in the letter, he said, "with about five voice mails left at [Pakistan] Embassy and two conversations with his [Ambassador Khan] secretary, I did not get even a courtesy call, nor even a form letter. So much for justice and the rule of law."

"Since I am retired from the FBI I have no idea how many buyers have submitted the Internet based complaint to the FBI, USPO, USSS, FTC, etc. I am sure some have, but I do not have details. I know of no investigations in this country by anyone except the FBI. I can't answer some of your questions without jeopardizing some sources. In the last several weeks I have spoken to an Axact/Crest fake school salesperson about a school, and seen new sample documents so I positively know the game is on," he told this correspondent.

"I have only hit the high spots in this 20+ year fraud—it is like an iceberg, the likes of which the world has not previously seen. I am in the process of writing additional articles on the Axact criminal enterprise. I want to be accurate in my writings, thus desire to know the official position of Pakistan on Axact and its activities," retired FBI agent further wrote in his letter dispatched on December 17, 2019.

Mr. Allen Azell sent the said (signed) letter again on Feb 9, 2020 to Ambassador Khan through his secretary Linda.

Pakistan Ambassador Dr. Asad Majeed Khan told this correspondent that he was not in knowledge of any such development yet. "I have never been contacted by anyone regarding Axact during my time here as Ambassador---I don’t recall seeing anything from him. Nor any of my colleagues," Ambassador Khan said.

Amir Mansoob, consul for Axact, in his response to this retired FBI agent’s letter, strongly rebutted the claim. A similar letter of some FBI official was produced before the FIA investigation team in Pakistan as an evidence, which later courts did not consider as admissible evidence, the firm’s counsel claimed.

“Our firm’s representative challenged that one FBI’s official letter in a local court in U.S. where it was proved years back that the Axact was not doing an illegal operations anywhere in U.S. Nothing found wrong or unlawful and there existed no such issue of fake or forged degrees/diplomas operations, the lawyer further argued. Therefore, there is no question of any illegal operations and the letter may be another attempt to malign the firm, he told this correspondent. The lawyer also promised to share his detailed version on the latest development after going through letter and blog written by the retired FBI agent. However, his further input did not arrive till late last night.

Imdad Ali, another counsel for Axact, told Geo News, "I'm no more legal advisor for Axact. I'm not pleading Axact case now a day. Also, I'm not in knowledge of any such activity that Axact resumed its fake degrees operations," he told this correspondent. Since the beginning, I was handling Axact's fake degrees as well as money laundering cases.

Adeel Arshad, ACA-Chief Financial Officer for the firm was also approached by this correspondent for his point of view. However, his response was also awaited till filing of this story late night.

The FIA senior officials engaged in this case told Geo News that the investigation was almost dormant in this Axact case, as U.S. authorities never responded to Pakistan's requests seeking details about money laundering, hawala hundi, etc.

"We are helpless in this case. FBI responded to the FIA's queries," FIA investigator told Geo News. Axact case was a test case for FIA which fetched data of Axact carrying record of over 350 fake schools, 4,300 web sites and 500 fake accreditors," he added.

"The case is in final stage of trial--many judges have been changed--some evidences are awaited from the U.S. authorities—still many ifs and buts continue to surround this case," FIA investigator further said, seeking anonymity.

This correspondent also approached FBI, Homeland Security Department, FIA and Ministry of Law for their version on this development. Till filing of this story, their responses were also not received.

FIA's 59-page final challan submitted with the court in this case read, "Axact management used the above modus operandi for defrauding students, their employers and public servants by offering different packages of false, fabricated, fake, fraudulent, misleading and fictitious Universities/Colleges/Schools/Accreditation and other organizations and received huge fees through online Credit/Debit Cards and deposited the same in the Bank Accounts abroad including that of M/s Axact FZ LLC. Dubai, UAE."

The foreign jurisdictions have also been co-operating with the FIA as evidenced by the letters from the Legal Attaché of USA Embassy Islamabad pertaining to fake/fictitious Universities the front/shell companies and merchant/bank accounts of accused persons, as discussed above, which further substantiates the facts that the ongoing investigation pertaining to subject scam may take more time before reaching to its conclusion, given the forensic reports and other material being still prepared/collected from the enormous amount of digital and other data involved in the case. Moreover, foreign students/victims are also approaching through their embassies/consulates in Pakistan, the challan further read.

A brief background of Axact case: FIA closed Axact office by arresting officials soon after The New York Times exposed this fake degrees scam. Various officials arrested, remained under investigation but later released on courts order.

A local court in Islamabad also sent a few executives of the said company in prison for about fifteen months but later released. A judge who acquitted the two key accused in this Axact case publically admitted of taking bribe.

Additional District and Sessions and District Court Judge Pervaizul Qadir Memon admitted his guilt of accepting a bribe of Rs5 million and later was dismissed from services by the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

The IHC had taken ‘suo motu’ notice of all Axact cases, vacating all prior sentences. Axact defendants were then tried, found guilty, sentenced to 20 years.

The sentence, however, later reduced in May 2018 to seven years confinement, yet no one has started their active prison sentences--they are all free men. The case is also pending with the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the FIA also continues its investigation in this case.