Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Daily Times Editorial May 21, 2015

Shameful scandal As the storm around The New York Times revelations regarding Axact’s business of fake degrees gathers force, the paper has come out with an editorial on the issue. The most damaging assertion in the editorial is that it is difficult to believe the Pakistan government knew nothing about the scam. Although The New York Times may be laying too much stock in our government’s capabilities, raising the question itself could prove disastrous for Pakistan and its businesses, especially IT, which Axact asserts is its main business. The report outlined an extensive network of fake university, college and high school websites issuing fake degrees for cash without the recipients required to attend any study courses. Coercive marketing using a wide array of ‘persuasion’ techniques helped Axact milk innocent or willing customers out of millions of dollars. Some sources say it is the biggest such scam in the history of the IT business. While the interior ministry and the Federal Investigation Agency have belatedly swung into action against Axact, reportedly on the instructions of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, their efforts are being described in mixed terms. For example, the initial ‘raid’ on the company’s Karachi office yielded little except a polite exchange with its officers. In Islamabad however, latest reports say 42 servers and other record was seized and 27 employees arrested for further investigation. Notices to appear and assist the investigation have been issued to the directors of the company. The Federal Bureau of Revenue has been asked to provide the tax records of the company since there are reports about its absurdly low reported income and tax, considering the amounts it was scamming out of people worldwide through its fake education degrees rip off. Chaudhry Nisar in a press conference on Wednesday said it would need technically competent people to conduct a forensic investigation of the company’s servers/computers, etc, a task that could consume at least a month. Other cyber crime experts think Pakistan will need the help and services of international experts to unravel this complex web. Meanwhile the Chief Operating Officer and head of Axact, Shoaib Sheikh, has been put on the exit control list and possibly all the directors will suffer the same. Axact’s response to the allegations and accusations against it has shifted the responsibility for the scandal onto rival media houses but failed to answer any of the charges. To the other charges has now been added the additional charge of possible money laundering. The New York Times report did point to cash transactions through dubious and circuitous routes all over the world, which could attract such an investigation. The embarrassment that has been heaped on Pakistan’s head because of this scandal echoed in the Senate on Monday when Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan drew the attention of the house to the issue, calling it a matter that made every Pakistani’s head hang in shame. He asked rhetorically why Pakistanis seemed to be so expert at such frauds. Chaudhry sahib may not know or remember the milieu that has emerged in Pakistan over the years. A society in which the corrupt are no longer thought of as bad people, in some instances even admired for their wealth, is not a society in which such scandals should cause one to wonder at them. The other side of the coin is the obvious incapability of our law enforcement agencies to keep abreast of the latest technologies, including IT, and therefore be in a position to monitor and clamp down in timely fashion on such crimes. Even the belated Cyber Crimes Bill currently under discussion in parliament betrays its misdirected thrust against dissenting opinions rather than cyber crimes. Such being the state of knowledge and expertise in these contemporary fields, The New York Times’ wondering how the Pakistan government could remain unaware of the scam turns into a rhetorical question. If anything, had the government been aware and acted against the scam earlier, that would have been the surprise. What has actually transpired is exactly according to the script and capabilities of our governments and the law enforcement institutions under them. The ignominy that will now be heaped on Pakistan and its citizens’ heads could end up isolating perfectly honest citizens along with the crooks in our society and reducing us all to pariah status in the world. A sad day indeed.

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