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Man gets booted out of top Malaysia govt internship for faking qualifications

Man gets booted out of top Malaysia govt internship for faking qualifications
Azhar Ali fooled the chief security office of the Malaysian government to win a place in its premier youth fellowship programme.
PHOTO: Instagram/Tzafrul_Aziz

KUALA LUMPUR — A fun meme posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, ended up exposing a fraud who had managed to fool even the chief security office of the Malaysian government to win a place in its premier youth fellowship programme.

Azhar Ali, 23, was selected as one of 56 Perdana Fellows for 2023 after boasting of being a Universiti Malaya graduate majoring in electronics and communications engineering.

But he has since been booted from the programme after many students and alumni pointed out there is no such course at the institution.


"He hasn't graduated yet. Same batch as me. I was his ex-roommate. But AFAIK (as far as I know), I haven't heard of the course yet. Mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, biomedical engineering. Only these five," said @zikriadamn on the social media platform.

Azhar had also claimed to be the champion of the WorldQuant Brain 2022 Global Alphathon. However, this was also revealed as false — the winning teams included students from universities in Vietnam, China and South Korea.

Azhar had been assigned as an intern to Investment, Trade and Industry Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz. But Datuk Seri Zafrul and Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh, whose ministry heads the fellowship programme, were not the first Cabinet members to be taken in by Mr Azhar's claims.

Zafrul has since deleted his social media posts welcoming Azhar to his office.

On Wednesday (Sept 13), the Youth and Sports Ministry issued a statement saying that anyone with false credentials will be terminated from the Perdana Fellowship.

Without naming Azhar, it said that a fellow who was attached to the Investment, Trade and Industry Ministry was terminated for violating the programme's terms after the certificate for one of his achievements was found to be "not legitimate".

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, then Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin as well as Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin and Higher Education Minister Noraini Ahmad had congratulated Azhar on his claims of winning a Nasa scholarship.

Azhar had tweeted that he was placed in the top one per cent in the Artemis Challenge, organised by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and obtained a super distinction for designing a space suit.

But it was later revealed the competition was an on-site activity held at Space Centre Houston for teams, not individual students. Also, the participants must be United States citizens or legal permanent residents.

This fiasco ended when Azhar tweeted that he was the victim of a scam after he was called out online.

He was back in the news earlier this week when a meme on X asked: "Outside of 9/11, what's a major historical event you lived through that you'll never forget where you were when it happened?"

One Malaysian replied: "This was the funniest thing to happen on Malaysian Twitter", while sharing an image of Azhar as a "Nasa citizen scientist."

After several users wondered "what he's up to now", another user revealed that Azhar had become a Perdana Fellow despite his Nasa claims being exposed.

On Wednesday, Zafrul said the selection process was under the Youth and Sports Ministry. In a separate press statement, the ministry explained that the screening procedure falls under the purview of the Chief Government Security Office under the Prime Minister's Department.

The latest episode involving Azhar has raised more questions about the process of verifying the qualifications of applicants who, if accepted, could gain direct access to ministers and sensitive government data.

Speaking to the press on Thursday, Ms Yeoh said her ministry has recognised that there are weaknesses in the selection and filtering process, and has launched an investigation into the vetting team for further action.

"The National Youth and Sports Department does the selection process, but the entire standard operating procedure relies on other agencies, for example, the screening that was done. Something like that should never have happened, and we want to make sure it will never happen again," said Ms Yeoh, adding that they will improve on the selection and screening process.

Some politicians had previously been accused of touting qualifications that are fake or acquired from "degree mills".

Among them were former deputy foreign minister Marzuki Yahya, and former housing and local government minister Zuraida Kamaruddin during the first Pakatan Harapan administration under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2019.

Datuk Marzuki had claimed to have a bachelor's degree from Britain's Cambridge University via a distance learning programme. But after an activist made a police report, he admitted that his degree was from Cambridge International University, a suspected degree mill in the US.

Datuk Zuraida was accused of claiming to be a graduate of the National University of Singapore (NUS), but she refuted the accusation, saying that she had never claimed or held herself to be a graduate of NUS and had never authorised anyone else to do so.

ALSO READ: India education minister to face court over 'fake' degree

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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