Ex-NUS don on trial for molesting schoolboys after 17 years on the run

(PHOTO: Getty Images)

A former professor of psychology from the National University of Singapore (NUS) is standing trial for allegedly molesting four Secondary 1 boys nearly two decades after he was first charged for the crimes.

Chan Cheng, 57, who was first charged in 1999 with molesting nine schoolboys, had absconded while on bail and was deported back to Singapore on 7 December 2016 after which he was arrested. The country from which he was sent back has not been revealed.

In a two-day trial that began on Monday (15 April), Chan contested the four counts he faces of molesting four schoolboys during a secondary school camp in 1999.

His charge sheets state that he used criminal force to rub or touch the private parts of the 13-year-old students while at the 1 Singapore Infantry Regiment Guillemard Camp along Old Airport Road on 29 June 1999. The facility is no longer in use.

The alleged acts are said to have occurred within 15-minute intervals between 12.30am and 1.30am.

The four male victims, the only witnesses to have taken the stand, are now 32 years old and cannot be named so as to protect their identities.

The court heard that the four boys had been attending a three-day camp during the June school holidays when the alleged incidents occurred. The secondary school that the boys were from has since merged with another school.

During the trial, most of the victims had difficulty recalling details of what they did during the camp but were able to recount their interactions with Chan.

One victim testified that Chan had reached over the bunk bed that he was resting on and massaged his left thigh. Chan then touched the victim’s private parts but the latter swiped Chan’s hand away after a few seconds.

The victim added that he felt “uneasy” over the act but could not recall if he had immediately told anyone about what happened. The victim added that he later informed the school’s discipline master about the incident.

Chan’s lawyer Ramesh Chandr Tiwary asked the victim if he could recall a foot drill session held after dinner on the first day of camp  but the victim could not do so.

Tiwary argued that the victims should have remembered the foot drill as it was “quite a severe punishment for 13-year-olds and many students were unhappy about it”.

The victim disagreed with the defence’s position that, at the time of the alleged incidents, the students would have been engaged in a “reflections” session during which they would be tasked with reflecting on the day’s activities. According to the victim, the alleged molestation took place at around 12.45am.

Tiwary also suggested to the victim that it would have been difficult for Chan, whom he described as a “short man”, to have been able to molest the victim who was on the second level of the bunk bed.

When asked why the victim did not inform other teachers present at the camp, he said that he was “shy”. Instead, he confided in the school’s discipline master on the third day of the camp.

Another victim, who said that Chan ran the camp, testified that Chan had molested him after the former took a shower. He said that the students had been given two minutes to shower and that two boys shared each cubicle.

The victim alleged that he was showering with another boy when the cubicle door became stuck, prompting him to shout for Chan’s assistance.

After the academic opened the door, the other student left and Chan asked him to put his arms out by his side. According to the victim, Chan then stroked his body from his armpit to his chest, and then down to his private parts.

The victim added that he was “in shock” as he had never experienced anything like that before and later told a friend about what had taken place.

Tiwary, however, countered that all the students would have left the toilet together, as two minutes was a “short time to shower”.

When asked by the prosecution whether the incident could have been accidental, the victim replied without hesitation that Chan’s alleged actions had been “intentional”.

“I believe he did touch me purposely… but I thought don’t make a fuss,” he said.

A third victim testified that Chan called him to the side of the bunk bed one morning during the camp to apply powder to his armpits and private parts. Chan allegedly did this after asking the victim to lift up his shirt and pull his pants forward.

“What activities I really cannot remember. But what happened between Chan and me, that I can remember cause it was really somehow a bad thing,” he said.

Accused a well-known Oxford graduate

Past media reports stated that Chan graduated from Oxford with a doctorate in psychology and computer science. He joined NUS’ Department of Social Work and Psychology in 1987 as a senior tutor and became a lecturer in 1992.

Chan, who was well-known for his research on juvenile delinquents and child psychology, also appeared on current affairs programmes to talk about the same topics. He was 39 at the time of the alleged offences.

After being charged with 12 counts of molesting the nine schoolboys, Chan failed to show up at a court hearing scheduled for 29 November 1999. A warrant for his arrest was then issued.

NUS later terminated the psychology don’s contract when he failed to show up for work. He was last seen in the university on 23 November. Chan reportedly left Singapore around that period.

The slim-built Chan, who is unemployed, attended the trial dressed in a grey suit and took notes while the alleged victims were on the stand. He is currently out on bail of $60,000.

Chan’s trial has been adjourned while awaiting the dates for its next tranche to be set.

For outraging the modesty of a person, Chan faces up to two years in jail and/or a fine on each count. Chan cannot be caned as he is past 50 years old.