Tutor jailed in O-level exam scam claimed being unaware she was in 'lesbian relationship' with principal

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SINGAPORE — The principal of a tuition centre who is alleged to have helped foreign students cheat in their O-Level examinations has accused her former lover of lying about the scam due to a grudge after they broke up.

Pony Poh Yuan Nie, 53, had been in a seven-year-relationship with Tan Jia Yan, 33. Tan said in the State Courts on Tuesday (23 July) she had believed that Poh was a man all the while when they were dating.

Tan, who was a tutor at the centre, was jailed three years in April for her involvement in the scam.

Testifying as a prosecution witness, Tan said that Poh, and two others - Poh’s niece Fiona Poh Min, 32, and Chinese national Feng Riwen, 27 - were involved in a sophisticated operation in which six foreign students who were taking the O-Level examinations in 2016 were fed answers.

Poh, Fiona and Feng are denying the offences in a trial which began last year.

“I put to you that the reason you came to court to falsely implicate my client Pony is because you have harboured a deep-seated grudge against Pony because in actual fact she dumped you after a seven-year relationship and you were left helpless,” said Poh’s lawyer, Peter Keith Fernando.

The scam involved Tan sitting for the exams as a private candidate with a smartphone strapped to her body. She would then use the Facetime app to send a live feed of the paper back to the other members of her team. Poh, Fiona and Feng would then allegedly work out the solutions to the answers before feeding them to the students, who would be taking the exams concurrently.

Each student would be equipped with a Bluetooth device which was connected with mobile phones hidden under their clothing, and a skin-coloured earphone through which they would receive the answers.

The exams, conducted between 19 and 24 October 2016, were for Mathematics Paper 1 and 2, English Paper 1 and 2, and the Science Physics/Chemistry Revised Practical Paper.

Thought it was ‘boy and girl’

During cross examination, Fernando asked Tan, “So this was a lesbian relationship?” Tan replied, “I didn’t know it was a lesbian relationship. I thought it was boy and girl.”

Tan told the court that she first met Poh when she was 16 years old. Poh was then her tutor.

“Subsequently she initiated a relationship with me, and deceived me that she was a male, so the relationship got on for seven years and after that we broke up,” Tan said.

Tan later became a full-time tutor at Zeus Education Centre, the tuition centre which Poh was in charge of. During their relationship, Poh would take Tan out for dinners, lunches and also gave her gifts. Poh gave her money to take taxis, Tan added.

When asked why the pair broke up, Tan said that it was triggered by a text to Poh from a third party in the relationship.

“For seven years I know there was someone that was involved, Wong Mee Keow, so I was being deceived that there was nothing between Wong and Pony.

“My last straw at the end was when I saw there was a text message, I decided that I should end the relationship,” said Tan.

Wong, the former owner of Pivot Tuition Centre, was fined $2,000 in February 2018 after she admitted to lying to the police in 2006 that she did not know Poh in an attempt to protect her. She and Poh were then in a relationship.

The case came to a standstill and was reopened almost a decade later when Poh was probed for a similar scam.

Tan said, “I saw a message on Pony’s phone, it was sent from (Wong) and it stated ‘I love you’, it was my last straw so I told Pony that I wanted to break up.”

The pair broke up in 2008, a few months before Tan graduated from university.

However, Fernando disagreed with Tan that she was the one who ended the relationship. Instead, Poh was the one who ended the relationship, the lawyer told Tan.

Asked by Fernando if the breakup was emotionally traumatic, Tan replied “yes”. Tan also said she questioned Poh “many times” about her relationship with Wong.

“In the span of seven years… If there is a situation whereby (Wong) would come to the tuition centre, I would have to hide somewhere,” Tan added.

Fernando asked, “You didn’t like what was happening, you couldn’t stomach it?”, to which Tan replied “yes”.

Fernando then said, “My instruction is that everything that you have alleged in testimony regarding Pony’s involvement in assisting students to cheat in examination is a pack of lies by you that you have made up.”

Tan disagreed with Fernando’s statement.

Asked if she felt bitter from the breakup, Tan replied that she felt sad about it. After their relationship ended, Tan said she thought of Poh as a mentor.

The trial resumes its next tranche on 2 September.

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