By Rao Basit
This is the story of a little boy who lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Karachi’s old Garden Area. His father was a struggling lawyer and his income was limited. The boy loved computers. After he graduated from the Institute of Business Administration, he got a chance to visit America and work at a software house, where he learnt how to hack computer systems.
These were the 90s and the boy was Shoaib Sheikh, who later became the owner of the software house Axact, which became part of the largest IT scandal in Pakistan’s history.
Axact made websites and software for businesses – but their main revenue was selling fake degrees from fake universities to a large number of professionals who needed them to move up the corporate ladder. Though all of this was an open secret— the company got into trouble after a detailed investigative report about the fake degree business appeared in the New York Times.
Axact became a concern for Declan Walsh, the journalist who broke the story—as he later agreed in an interview— after it launched the “biggest media house” of Pakistan called Bol. The campaign for the launch was so aggressive that months before its launch Bol became a household name.
Bol recruited top brass journalists, paying them four times more than the market rates. If Bol’s finances were suspicious—they were at least providing low-paid journalists—some hope.
But Bol fell even before it was launched. It’s offices were sealed in May after the FIA raided its offices. And as employees worried about their fate— Shoaib Sheikh was picked up by FIA for interrogation.
Multiple protests by employees were staged in support of Shoaib Sheikh, but all in vain.
Shoaib remains in custody. The Axact offices are deserted. And its employees are looking for work.
Over 2000 families were affected by the Axact episode.
Perhaps he should have stayed quiet about Bol. His was ship which sank, even before it set sail.
*This story is part of our “most discussed persons in 2015” list.
Read no 4 here: Saulat Mirza—a young life wasted