SINGAPORE – On Wednesday, (6 Dec), Fonseka Wannerichega Hema Ranjini, a 44-year-old Singaporean woman, was sentenced to eight months in jail for forging an engineering degree from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and using it to secure multiple jobs over a span of 16 years.
Fonseka, who matriculated at NTU in 1998, initially studied mechanical and production engineering but faced challenges with the coursework and financial difficulties. She withdrew from the program in 2004.
Following the termination of financial support from her mother, Fonseka forged a Bachelor of Engineering degree from NTU in 2004, claiming third-class honours.
Fonseka secured various editorial roles using the fraudulent certificate, including an assistant managing editor position at Marshall Cavendish Education, Scholastic Education International (Singapore), Cengage Learning Asia, and Oxygen Studio Designs.
Her highest monthly salary was S$6,800, along with an additional transport allowance of S$1,084, while working as a learning editor at the Walt Disney Company (Southeast Asia).
The company, unsuspecting at first, sent her certificate to the Office of Academic Services in NTU for validation by a third-party vendor specialising in background checks, triggering the exposure of the forgery.
Fonseka’s attorney stated in court that she forged the degree as a way to “placate” her mother, who subjected her to psychological pressure.
The perpetrator also grappled with the financial strain of securing a satisfactory income to provide for herself and her parents, as per her lawyer’s statement.
Prosecutor sought eight to 10 months of jail time, Defence argued for a fine or “brief jail term”
Deputy Public Prosecutor Melissa Heng sought a jail term of eight to 10 months, emphasizing Fonseka’s effort to make the forged certificate appear genuine and the fact that she obtained five jobs with it over 16 years.
She pointed out that Fonseka earned a “considerable salary” ranging from S$47,000 to S$83,000 for some charges.
Upon the revelation of her deceit, Fonseka’s reaction indicated a lack of remorse, Ms Heng said.
However, Defence lawyer Foo Cheow Ming argued for a fine or a brief jail term instead, citing Fonseka’s mother’s psychological pressure and the economic necessity to support herself and her parents as mitigating factors.
Mr Foo stated that Fonseka faced “physical and mental abuse” from her mother, who suffers from an undiagnosed personality disorder.
Despite the challenges, Fonseka’s “filial piety remains steadfast,” and she continues to care for her parents.
“Due to the severe psychological pressure (Fonseka’s) mother placed on her self-worth and self-esteem, she took the first step of forging a (degree) in order to placate her mother,” said Mr Foo.
“Following that, the economic pressure of having to earn a salary sufficient for her own livelihood and (to) support her own parents led to the usage of the forged (degree).”
Prior to handing down the sentence, District Judge Terence Tay noted that her actions had prevented more qualified individuals from securing the positions she obtained.
While he empathized with Fonseka’s family situation, he highlighted that there was no clear connection between her circumstances and the decision to forge the degree.
The charge of cheating carries a penalty of imprisonment for up to three years, fines, or both, while the charge of forgery carries a potential fine and a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment.
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