On the surface it appears to be a perfectly innocuous matter. A company that claims to be a software exporter is accused of being in the business of selling fake degrees online and making more money than anyone else from legitimate software exports. The company argues that it is the victim of a malicious campaign by its competitors and pleads not guilty to charges against it.
One by one, all the cases it faces start to stall, evidence is not presented, prosecutors refuse to try the case and judges refuse to hear it. Then the acquittals come, in all but one case. The company claims that it stands vindicated and aggressively pursues the last remaining case, arguing that since it is based on the same charges, with the same complainant as those in which the acquittals have come, continuing to try the case amounts to trying someone twice for the same charge.
Just then, one of the company’s executives is arrested in the United States on charges of being part of a large conspiracy to commit wire fraud through misrepresentation online, and of being a key member of an organised ring that sells fake degrees from Pakistan. The executive initially decides to fight the case and some of the best legal help is provided to him through parties unknown. Then suddenly he changes his mind and pleads guilty, accepts a lower sentence and is sent to jail.
The company in question is Axact and the state’s attempt to prosecute it on charges of selling fake degrees has turned into a giant mystery. Dig a little deeper and strange things are seen happening. Two prosecutors resign abruptly, leaving behind cryptic statements as the reason. Multiple judges recuse themselves from hearing the case.
One of the investigators from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) tells the media that he was abducted from his car, taken to an unknown location, badly roughed up and told to abandon his efforts at digging deeper into the data on Axact’s servers, which had been seized by his agency during initial raids on the company’s headquarters.
A grenade is thrown into the house of one of the prosecutors precisely when he is involved in discussions with the Ministry of Interior regarding the filing of appeals against the acquittals. A few prosecution witnesses, who recorded their testimony in court, disappear. Media reports from Canada and the United Kingdom emerge saying that many people have been found working in all professions, including highly sensitive ones like pediatric care, who have obtained their degrees from fake online universities that, they claim, are ultimately controlled from Axact’s offices.
And the list goes on. Beneath the surface of the case, there is a bubbling cauldron of strange happenings: whoever gets too close to the case can land in trouble. The interior ministry has twice tried to conduct an inquiry to discern what exactly is happening, and both times the inquiry has gone silent. The last special public prosecutor did not last on the case for more than a few months, and it is now in the hands of a low level, in-house lawyer from the FIA.
Meanwhile, the stacks of material gleaned from the company’s servers lie gathering dust in the FIA’s offices, and reports from abroad mount, claiming that years after the first raids on its offices the company has resumed its business all over again. The truth, whatever it may be, needs to be told on this matter. The only question is, who will do the telling?
This article was published in the Herald's February 2018 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.