Ex-Maris Stella principal guilty of embezzlement

SINGAPORE - Former Maris Stella High principal Anthony Tan Kim Hock's long and distinguished career lay in tatters last Wednesday after he was found guilty of embezzling $67,700.

The 65-year-old - who used school funds for a project to rebuild a three-storey private residence of his religious order - was not a credible witness at the trial, said District Judge Soh Tze Bian.

He added that Tan was "consistently evasive during cross- examination, changing and fabricating his evidence, even to the extent of incoherence, whenever he was cornered".

His account not only contradicted itself but was also inconsistent with documentary evidence and testimony from the prosecution witnesses, said the judge in his grounds of decision.

Tan, who was the school's longest-serving principal and a strict disciplinarian, is credited with building its reputation for excellence in information technology, and introducing a range of outdoor adventure programmes to give boys a holistic education.

But it all went wrong after he used school funds for a project to rebuild Champagnat House, a private residence of the Marist Brothers.

The money paid for granite surfacing on walls, stained glass windows and kitchen appliances.

During the 11-day trial, Tan claimed he dipped into the funds out of "expedience", with the intention of paying the money back later.

But Judge Soh said this was directly contradicted by evidence that showed Tan had enough money to pay for the renovations himself. Using his personal bank account would have been "far more straightforward and convenient", he added.

The judge said Tan, who was principal between 1984 and 2009, failed to mention points in his statements to the Commercial Affairs Department that were later introduced as evidence at the trial.

He also rejected the former principal's claim that he had "wide discretion and authority" to use the funds, saying there was no direct evidence to support it.

In fact, he added, the school's board of management asked Tan to provide an account of its finances as early as 2002.

The judge said the former principal's reimbursement of money on Sept 24, 2009 directly contradicted his claim that he thought he was authorised to use the funds in any manner he saw fit.

Tan faced 21 charges of criminal breach of trust between 2004 and 2009, but the prosecution proceeded on only one count involving $67,679.

His lawyer, Mr Peter Low, said no decision had been made on whether to appeal. Tan is expected to be sentenced on June 28.

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