8 months' jail for NTU dropout who forged degree to get jobs at Walt Disney and other companies

Shaffiq Alkhatib
The Straits Times
Dec 6, 2023

A Nanyang Technological University (NTU) dropout who forged a bachelor’s degree in engineering certificate from the institution and duped multiple firms into hiring her was jailed for eight months on Dec 6.

By using the fake certificate, Fonseka Wannerichega Hema Ranjini was hired by companies such as The Walt Disney Company, Marshall Cavendish and Scholastic Education International, earning a monthly salary of between $4,200 and $6,800.

On Nov 23, the 44-year-old Singaporean pleaded guilty to two counts of cheating and a count of committing forgery. Two other charges were considered during sentencing.

Before handing down the sentence on Dec 6, District Judge Terence Tay noted that her offences had deprived more deserving people from getting the jobs she clinched.

Fonseka, whose highest attained educational qualification is the GCE A levels, enrolled in NTU to study engineering in 1998, but dropped out in August 2004 as she struggled to pass various modules and pay the tuition fees.

In 2005, she used a computer program to design a certificate showing she had graduated from NTU in June 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering with third-class honours.

After that, she used the bogus document to apply for various jobs.

In August 2005, publisher Marshall Cavendish hired her as an assistant managing editor with a monthly salary of $4,200.

In July 2015, Fonseka joined publisher Scholastic Education International as an assistant managing editor, earning $4,300 a month. She was promoted to managing editor a year later, and was paid $4,600 a month.

Scholastic paid her a total of $83,800 during the period of her employment. But in February 2017, she was laid off owing to unsatisfactory work performance.

In 2021, Fonseka applied to entertainment and media enterprise The Walt Disney Company in South-east Asia and was hired as a learning editor in its publishing department from June to December that year.

Her monthly salary there was $6,800 a month, and she was given a transport allowance of $1,084 a month, bringing her total remuneration to $7,884 a month.

Her offences came to light when Walt Disney sent her fake certificate to be validated by a third-party vendor shortly after she was hired.

Walt Disney’s human resources department asked Fonseka for an explanation after NTU confirmed that it did not award her with a degree.

Fonseka then claimed she withdrew from NTU in her final year of undergraduate studies, but it issued a certificate at her request to prove she was enrolled there for a period of time.

In October 2021, an NTU employee alerted the police. Fonseka resigned from Walt Disney in December 2021. The company had paid her about $47,300 during the period of her employment.

On Dec 6, Deputy Public Prosecutor Melissa Heng urged District Judge Tay to sentence Fonseka to up to 10 months’ jail.

The prosecutor stressed that Fonseka had put in considerable effort to make the fake certificate appear genuine, and that she had earned considerable salaries.

Defence lawyer Foo Cheow Ming pleaded for his client to be given either a fine or a “very brief” jail term.

He told the court that Fonseka’s mother had abused her physically and mentally, and that the affected firms did obtain services from his client.

For each count of cheating, an offender can be jailed for up to three years and fined.

The Straits Times

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