Ex-NUS law professor is released from jail

[UPDATED on 18 September, 9:00am: Adding news of his release from jail.]

Former NUS law professor Tey Tsun Hang, 42, has been released from jail to spend the rest of his five-month term at home. 

His lawyer Peter Low told The Straits Times that Tey -- convicted in the sex-for-grades case that involved ex-student Darinne Ko -- was released on Tuesday afternoon with two conditions: He would be allowed to leave home only between noon and 3pm; he cannot speak with the media.

In June, Tey started serving his sentence, even though his appeal hearing would be from 16 to 18 October. He is appealing against both his conviction and his five-month jail sentence.

For his two sex charges, Tey was sentenced to three months imprisonment each, while for his remaining charges involving gifts, he was sentenced to two months each. All were to be served at the same time, except for the charge involving the dinner bill and his first sexual encounter with Ko, which need to be served one after the other.

He was also penalised $514.80 for costs related to a dinner bill and tailored shirts, both of which Ko ended up paying for.

In sentencing, Chief District Judge Tan Siong Thye stressed the importance of imposing a deterrent sentence. He rejected the defence's argument that the reputation of NUS was not compromised, saying that "the mere fact that an associate professor was convicted must invariably mean that the reputation of the school has been tarnished".

While reading out Tey's conviction verdict over three and a half hours previously, Tan said the evidence before him weighed overwhelmingly toward his conclusion that Tey had tricked ex-student Darinne Ko into having sex with him twice. Tey had also abused his position of influence over her academic future to deceive her into showering him with gifts.

Tey was charged in court last year for having corruptly obtained sexual gratification from ex-student Ko on two occasions in July 2010. She was then a student at NUS and the sexual gratification was seen as an inducement for showing favour in assessing her academic performance.

In the other charges, Tey, a former district judge, obtained from Ko, between May and July that same year, a Mont Blanc pen worth S$740, two tailor-made shirts valued at S$236.20, an iPod Touch worth S$160 and payment of a bill amounting to S$1,278.60.

District Judge Tan also said that Tey committed his actions with full knowledge that he was in breach of NUS's code of conduct as well as its conflict of interest policy for its staff.

Relationship 'laced with corrupt intent': Judge

The judge said that from the evidence before him, the romantic relationship central to Tey's defence in the second tranche of his trial failed to hold water.

Comparing it to former Central Narcotics Bureau director Ng Boon Gay's corruption case, which ended with Ng being acquitted, Tan said Ng's relationship with former IT executive Cecilia Sue lasted for about three years and started before Ng assumed his directorship role at CNB, as compared to Tey's with Ko. Comparatively, the latter lasted for a shorter four and a half months, and started long after Tey started working with NUS. Tan referred to Tey's relationship with Ko as a "professor-student relationship where he as the sole marker (for the subjects Ko was taking under him) had total control and authority over her grades".

Tan also noted that throughout Tey's six lengthy statements given to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), not once did the latter refer to Ko by her name, instead using the terms "female student" and "star prosecution witness", among others.

Calling Ko a "young and impressionable student just shy of her 21st birthday", and also just six years older than Tey's then-14-year-old daughter, Tan said it was "obvious that (Tey) knew he had great influence over (Ko)". In full cognizance of this, Tan said Tey lured Ko into an "illicit romantic relationship laced with corrupt motive, in which the accused took advantage of his student". Ko, the judge explained, would have been have at the time been overwhelmed with the special attention she was receiving and unable to discern his malicious intent.

Tey 'tricked' Ko, was not truthful

Referring in turn to the specific gifts Ko gave to Tey, Tan progressively showed that they were not all necessarily given completely out of free will on Ko's part. He said Tey lied to Ko by telling her he had misplaced his fountain pen, leading her to purchase the Mont Blanc pen for him as a replacement, when he later said he had never lost it.

Turning to a lavish dinner held for seven of Tey's graduating students whom Ko did not personally know, Tan said Tey had slipped Ko the bill "without so much as a word", making her feel obligated to pay for it. Tan also noted Tey had made no mention of reimbursing Ko for the dinner until she asked about it some six months later, where he then promptly paid her $1,000.

When Tey visited Ko in the U.S. during her exchange in Duke University, he also made her pay for his expenses and meals while there, claiming he "did not have that much money", and when Ko discovered while there that she was pregnant with Tey's baby, he instructed her to "get rid of it" and said he had no money to send her for her abortion, which she eventually forked out about US$2,000 for.

All this, said Tan, happened to Ko, a student with no income who had to shorten her exchange period by half when her family fell into financial difficulty, while Tey was earning an annual salary of more than $225,000 at NUS.

Supporters in court

Tey kept his head down throughout the verdict. When it ended, he seemed to be on the verge of tears as he embraced and kissed the cheeks of several people seated on the left side of the public gallery. 

Present at his verdict reading were Tey's NUS colleagues and friends from the law community, and a close friend from university who was seen wiping away her tears with a handkerchief. Hugging them, Tey whispered, "I'll be all right. Thank you so much." Some of them repeatedly urged him to "be strong".

In seeking a stiff fine in lieu of a jail sentence, Tey's lawyer Peter Low submitted several testimonials and mitigation pleas from Tey's colleagues as well as 22 other statements from his ex-students speaking up for him.

Among other things, Tey's ex-students said he was an "exceptional tutor" who inculcated a "strong moral foundation" in the practice of law among his students. He was also described as someone who is "concerned about his students' well-being", and a lecturer whom ex-students continue to keep in touch with after graduation.

Low noted also that Tey's actions had not compromised or caused any loss of public confidence in NUS's grading system, and argued that he had not caused NUS any reputational damage or real harm.

Tey is married and has a 15-year-old daughter. His elderly parents have lived in Malaysia since May last year, a month after the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) commenced investigations.