Commentary: Is Singapore’s tech start-up scene giving CEOs a free pass for deception?

SINGAPORE: Exactly 10 days after news broke that Vizzio Technologies founder and CEO Jon Lee had forged his computer science doctorate from the University of Cambridge, the artificial intelligence start-up on Friday (Jan 26) announced the appointment of an interim CEO.

It expressed confidence that “this leadership enhancement, along with our commitment to robust governance, positions Vizzio for a strong future”.

Vizzio’s statement was extremely vague to say the least: Not once did it mention Mr Lee’s name, or explain why the company needed an interim CEO. It also did not explain whether action had been taken against Mr Lee for forging his credentials or why the board had so resolutely backed him initially. “We cannot, and will not, take his life’s work away from him,” the board said a statement signed by Vizzio chairman Abu Bakar Mohd Nor on Jan 16.

Visitors who click on the LinkedIn icon on the Vizzio’s website are directed to Mr Lee’s profile, where he is still identified as founder, CEO and vice chairman.


The news first broke when Mr Lee, who founded Vizzio in 2019, admitted in an interview with online publication Tech In Asia that he had faked his credentials.

The backlash was initially relatively muted. One prominent AI leader, Lee Kai-fu, quit Vizzio’s board, but the rest stood by their CEO.

In a statement released on Jan 17, Jon Lee apologised for misrepresenting his academic qualifications, but added that Vizzio’s board and shareholders had decided that he would continue to serve as CEO.

This seems jarring when others who fabricated their credentials in Singapore have faced worse consequences. In December 2023, a woman who forged a bachelor’s degree to secure several jobs over 16 years was sentenced to eight months’ jail. She was caught when one employer fact-checked her credentials with Nanyang Technological University (NTU), who then lodged a police report. Mr Lee’s case may become a non-issue if no Vizzio stakeholder takes legal action.

Why was punishment administered in one case but not the other? Does this suggest double standards between corporate leaders and employees, or the tech sector and the rest of the business world?

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