SINGAPORE: A 44-year-old Singaporean woman pleaded guilty on Thursday (Nov 23) to charges of cheating and forgery, admitting to fabricating a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) engineering degree.
The woman, Fonseka Wannerichega Hema Ranjini managed to secure positions with four different companies by presenting the forged credentials, with monthly salaries ranging from S$4,300 to S$6,800.
The deception came to light when The Walt Disney Company (Southeast Asia) attempted to validate Fonseka’s certificate.
Upon discovering that NTU had not issued the document, the company realized the elaborate ruse and reported the incident.
Fonseka’s employment history while using a fake certificate
The court heard that Fonseka had matriculated at Nanyang Technological University in 1998 to study mechanical and production engineering.
However, struggling both academically and financially, she withdrew from the program in 2004.
Undeterred, she later forged a certificate sometime in 2005, creating the illusion of possessing a Bachelor of Engineering degree with third-class honors from NTU, while her actual highest qualification was A-Levels.
To create the certificate, Fonseka searched for information about NTU online and inserted false signatures of the “president” and the “registrar”.
She then purchased a heavy type of paper known as cardstock to print out the certificate and had it laminated.
Fonseka intended to use the fake certificate to apply for jobs to obtain a higher salary as she thought that candidates with a university degree drew a higher salary than those without
Using the forged document, Fonseka secured a position as an assistant managing editor at Marshall Cavendish Education in August 2005.
She took on the role of an acquisition associate at the same company from November 2012 to 2013, with the same amount of salary.
Interestingly, the position at Marshall Cavendish was not mentioned among the companies she deceived in official court records, despite her use of the forged certificate during the application process, as per Channel News Asia’s report.
Subsequently, Fonseka transitioned to Scholastic Education International (Singapore) in June 2015, where she continued her deceptive practices.
Her application, supported by the counterfeit certificate, led to a role as an assistant managing editor.
She worked in this role from July 2015 to June 2016, after which she was promoted to managing editor with a pay bump of S$300.
However, her employment was short-lived, as she was terminated in February 2017 for unsatisfactory performance.
Scholastic Education had paid Fonseka approximately S$83,800 during her tenure.
Furthermore, a spokesperson from the company subsequently verified that there was a prerequisite for a Bachelor’s degree for the positions Fonseka occupied.
This implies that the company would not have hired her had they been aware of her lack of a degree.
Working and getting found out at Disney
The elaborate scheme continued when Fonseka applied to The Walt Disney Company in 2021, securing a position as a learning editor with a monthly salary of S$6,800 and additional perks.
The company, unsuspecting at first, sent her certificate to the Office of Academic Services in NTU for validation, triggering the exposure of the forgery.
Upon NTU’s verification that they had not issued the certificate, but Fonseka had withdrawn from the university in 2004, the vendor relayed this information to The Walt Disney Company.
In response, Fonseka was queried to provide an explanation. Initially, she asserted that she had withdrawn from NTU in her last academic year but had the certificate issued as proof of her enrollment.
She maintained that she was unaware of the certificate’s invalidity.
Moreover, apart from Marshall Cavendish Education and The Walt Disney Company, Fonseka also deceived Cengage Learning Asia and Oxygen Studio Designs, earning approximately S$190,500 and S$25,400 from these companies during her employment.
Fonseka is scheduled to return to court in December for mitigation and sentencing.
If convicted, she could face imprisonment for up to three years for each count of cheating, fines, or both.
The forgery charge carries a potential fine and up to seven years’ imprisonment.
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