How Arab News broke fake degree scandal

How Arab News broke fake degree scandal
Updated 29 May 2015

How Arab News broke fake degree scandal

How Arab News broke fake degree scandal

JEDDAH: The multimillion-dollar fake degree scandal that is currently roiling Pakistan was first scooped by Arab News in 2009.
Pakistan’s top investigative agencies are now carrying out an investigation after the New York Times (NYT) ran a report last week detailing what Arab News had already revealed. The NYT alleged that Axact, a Karachi-based software company, was making millions selling fake degrees and diplomas through bogus school and university websites.
Arab News’ information technology journalist, Molouk Y. Ba-Isa, broke the story on Oct. 6, 2009. She had carried out an extensive investigation and identified Axact as the alleged culprit.
Ba-Isa, who had an illustrious career at Arab News editing the widely read weekly CompuNet pages for nearly a decade, left three years ago.
She was ecstatic this past week. “I feel vindicated,” she was quoted as saying in a NYT report on May 23.
In 2009, Ba-Isa had followed up on a report that a certain Rochville University had awarded a master’s in business administration (MBA) to a bulldog named Chester. The application had been made by the dog’s owner, Vicky Phillips, founder of GetEducated.com, in an attempt to expose the fake university.
Rochville’s physical location was a mystery and Ba-Isa learned from a courier company official in Dubai that the degree originated from Axact’s office in Karachi.
When the story was published in Arab News, the newspaper received a legal threat from Axact’s lawyers, and the article had to be removed from the Internet. There was, however, no retraction in the print edition and Arab News stood by the story.
“It was a splendid day for me and for my sources in Pakistan who helped unravel that scandal,” Ba-Isa told Arab News. She has written a detailed account of the story for a local publication on Wednesday.
In the 2009 Arab News story, Ba-Isa wrote that degree mills were being set up in developing countries to circumvent tougher laws in Europe and the United States.
Phillips had provided Arab News with scans of the certificates and college transcripts that were issued to get the MBA for the bulldog. She also sent Arab News a scan of the outside of the courier package in which the documents were received at her home in Vermont, US. They came from an address in Dubai and were purchased for $499.
Using the information from the address label on the courier package, Arab News contacted DHL in Dubai. The company revealed that the documents had come from a freight forwarder in Dubai called First Flight. A woman supervisor at First Flight said the documents were actually received from Pakistan and that First Flight was only instructed to forward the shipment to Vermont.
She explained that First Flight had only checked to see that the contents of the package were actually documents and that the company had no knowledge of their purpose.
First Flight stated that the documents had been shipped from Karachi with the sender listed as Axact Private Limited. The contents had been noted as “university.” This is how Axact was first named as the alleged source of the multimillion-dollar fake degree scandal.
On Wednesday, Pakistani investigators arrested Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh, the chief executive officer of Axact. He led investigators to a building next to the company’s headquarters where they found a room filled with blank certificates bearing the letterheads of dozens of fake universities and high schools operated by Axact under names such as Bay View, Cambell State, Oxdell and Nixon.