News Analysis |
The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Wednesday expressed displeasure over the absence of Axact chief executive officer Shoaib Shaikh from the court in a money laundering case. The court warned and notified that in case of further absence, it will take appropriate action under law.
The CEO of Axact was acquitted in August 2016 in a case involving the illegal transfer of Rs. 170.17 million to a Dubai-based firm, Chanda Exchange Company, in April 2014. Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) unhappy with the acquittal, has lodged an appeal against the decision.
SHC had established a two-member bench that is headed by Justice Naimatullah Phulpot to hear the appeal from FIA on the orders of the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan. Furthermore, the SC also directed the SHC to decide on the appeal within 15-days.
Despite the presence of proof, the fate of the cases in courts has been appalling as prosecutors struggled to convict the culprits. This initiative of CJP looks promising, but knowing Pakistan’s judicial system, it’s difficult to keep the expectations too high.
Following the orders of the apex court, on February 12, SHC had directed Shoaib to appear in the court on February 15, but he failed to appear citing medical reasons. Even then, the court had shown displeasure and asked Sheikh’s counsel to present his client’s medical certificate in the court at the next hearing.
Moreover, Justice Phulpoto had again summoned Axact CEO Shoaib Sheikh and others accused on February 21st with regards to the FIAs appeal against the initial acquittal. Another absence annoyed the bench. To make the matter worse, even the counsel was absent from the court and his junior lawyer justified his absence referring to the ongoing cases in SC. The hearing of the case was adjourned until February 26.
FIA confident over strong evidence
After the much-publicized revelations of the New York Times in exposing the murky face of Axact’s business operations and subsequent closure of Axcat indicated the swift possibility of justice in the case. Thousands of bogus degrees and other material was recovered by FIA. Despite, so much apparent proof, the fate of the case in courts has been appalling as prosecutors struggled to convict the culprits.
FIA remained defiant over the presence of strong pieces of evidence of money laundering against Axact CEO and other employees.
Cases re-opened after CJP’s suo motu
After the acquittal of the accused in fake degree cases, the reputed international publications issued investigative reports regarding the issuance of fake degrees to the UK and Canadian nationals.
The Apex court is attempting to draw curtains on the evil practices in the country by ordering time-bound decisions on such high-profile cases. But, the justice system in Pakistan favors the defense and is very flexible and is agonizingly slow.
BBC Radio 4 reported that thousands of UK nationals have bought fake degrees from a multi-million-pound “diploma mill” in Pakistan. Even more in-depth investigations were done by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in a program marketplace, which explained the real business of Axact behind the IT-firm banner.
In response to these reports, national broadcasters also republished old stories and reignited the forgotten issue after the bails were granted to the main accused in this high profile case. The backlash prompted CJP Mian Saqib Nisar and he decided to punish the culprits and said, “Our heads are bowed in shame because of this scandal.”
Four cases registered against Axact CEO
A total of four cases are registered against the Axact CEO. He was acquitted in questionable circumstances in two cases in Islamabad High Court (IHC) and SHC, which prompted quick action from the CJP to overturn the judgments to restart the cases. Another case is underway in Karachi and a fourth is yet to be started in Peshawar.
Slow Court proceedings questions the systems adequacy?
The Apex court is attempting to draw curtains on the evil practices in the country by ordering time-bound decisions on such high-profile cases. But, the justice system in Pakistan favors the defense and is very flexible and is agonizingly slow. Under the current system, it is challenging to proceed as the defense seeks time, delay prosecution and the lawyers are often absent for miscellaneous reasons which hinder court proceedings.
The evidence against Axact was even shown on national TV where thousands of bogus degrees and other material was recovered by the FIA. Despite the presence of proof, the fate of the cases in courts has been appalling as prosecutors struggled to convict the culprits. This initiative of CJP looks promising, but knowing Pakistan’s judicial system, it’s difficult to keep the expectations too high.