martes, 19 de mayo de 2015

Pakistani Investigators Raid Offices of Axact, Fake Diploma Company


Axact runs hundreds of websites, many of which purport to be online universities and high schools based in the United States. CreditSara Farid for The New York Times

KARACHI, Pakistan — Pakistani investigators on Tuesday raided the offices of Axact, a software firm in Karachi that has come under scrutiny for running a global diploma mill that has earned tens of millions of dollars through a network of fake online schools.
The Pakistani interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, ordered the investigation after a report by The New York Times described links between Axact and at least 370 websites, many of which purport to be online universities and high schools based in the United States.
On Tuesday, investigators from the corporate crimes unit of the Federal Investigation Agency visited Axact’s headquarters in Karachi, as well as smaller offices in Islamabad, the capital, and Rawalpindi, seizing computers and taking in at least 24 people for questioning, several Pakistani law enforcement officials said.

Axact has denied any wrongdoing and has accused The Times of colluding with rival news media companies to frustrate Bol, its new television network, which is scheduled to begin broadcasting this year.
In a statement posted on its website on Monday, Axact said the Times report was “baseless, substandard, maligning, defamatory, and based on false accusations.” The company said it planned to take legal action against the newspaper.
As it has expanded its business since 1997, Axact has frequently used aggressive legal tactics to silence critics and to dissuade reporters from investigating its business practices. Now it is coming under intense media and political scrutiny in Pakistan.
In the upper house of Parliament on Tuesday, Aitzaz Ahsan, a senior leader with the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, said the episode had brought Pakistan’s reputation into disrepute, and called for an official investigation.
In its statement, the Interior Ministry said that investigators would determine whether Axact “is involved in any such illegal work which can tarnish the good image of the country in the world.”
The uproar has generated a barrage of comments on social media in Pakistan. Critics have mocked Axact’s network of online universities, which carry American-sounding names like Barkley and Columbiana. A smaller number of supporters and employees have vociferously defended the company.
Bloggers publicized the names of university and high school websites they said were also run by Axact, which went beyond a list published by The Times on Sunday.
Several former Axact employees contacted The Times, offering accounts of their experiences working at the company. By Tuesday morning, phone lines at some of the university websites run by Axact were not being answered.
A video circulating on social media showed the company’s founder and chief executive, Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh, addressing cheering employees on Monday evening.
In the video, Mr. Shaikh reiterated many of the points from Axact’s official response and accused a Times reporter of colluding with the rival Express Tribune group, which republishes The International New York Times in Pakistan.
Kamran Ataullah, a deputy director at the Federal Investigation Agency in Karachi, said the investigation would not be limited to the contents of the Times article. “We’ve issued a letter to them, and we’re looking for details of their database, employees, what websites and equipment they’re using,” he said.
The furor comes just as Axact is preparing to start Bol, which has built a large studio and hired away senior journalists from other news media groups. The station is expected to begin broadcasting after Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, which will end in mid-July.
Kamran Khan, the editor in chief of Bol, said in a Twitter message that the new station had been created to uphold the truth and was “not in the business of cover-ups regardless personal cost or consequences.”
According to the Federal Investigation Agency, Mr. Shaikh and other directors of Axact have been served notices to appear at the agency’s office in Karachi on Wednesday. At the time of the investigation team’s visit, there were no senior managers at the Axact headquarters in Karachi.


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