Criminal Law

O-Level exam cheating case: One of our reported cases

Written by Team Farallon | August 4, 2018

1 August 2018
Today Online

By Louisa Tang

SINGAPORE – In the ongoing trial of tuition centre principal Poh Yuan Nie and two accomplices, who allegedly helped six students from China cheat at the GCE O-Level examinations, one of the students claimed he “did not dare” tell the defendants that he did not want to be part of the ruse.

Two years ago in 2016, Poh, together with her niece Fiona Poh Min, 30, and China national Feng Riwen, 25, allegedly helped the six students cheat during the O-Level exams. Two of the students testified during the first three days of the trial in April.

Mr Zhang Jinlu, 21, the prosecution’s fifth witness, took the stand on Wednesday (Aug 1). He told the court that Poh Yuan Nie – also known as Pony Poh – and Fiona Poh had called him to Zeus Education Centre’s office on Oct 18, 2016, a day before his Physics/Chemistry practical exam to discuss cheating.

“They told me that starting from the science practical onwards, there would be a need to cheat. I was told not to tell others, including family members,” Mr Zhang said in Mandarin through a translator.

He claimed that the three accused helped him cheat on three occasions from Oct 19 to 21, 2016: for the science practical exam, as well as Mathematics Paper 1 and Paper 2.

At that time, he was a Secondary 3 student at St Francis Methodist School, a private secondary and post-secondary institution. His aunt, whom he lived with in Tiong Bahru, had registered him for English tuition lessons at Zeus.

Mr Zhang said that Zeus had told his aunt they had a “cooperation” with his school, which allowed him to take the O-Level exams then and “move on to the next school”.

After Pony Poh and Fiona Poh allegedly showed Mr Zhang the Bluetooth devices to be used for cheating, he went home and told his aunt. However, his aunt told him to adopt a “wait and see” approach.

During cross-examination, defence lawyers sought to discredit Mr Zhang, accusing him of lying on the stand.

Pony Poh’s lawyer Peter Keith Fernando asked Zhang on why he did not inform Pony Poh and Fiona Poh then that he did not want to cheat. Mr Zhang had testified that he “did not dare” to tell them so, as he wanted to discuss it with his family first.

Mr Fernando further pressed Zhang on why, then, he had not asked his aunt to call the tuition centre to tell them he did not want to cheat.

“I’m putting it to you that you are a blatant liar,” Mr Fernando said. “Not only did you not discuss cheating, you were not shown any devices.”

Mr Zhang replied that while he had not done so on that day, his aunt had discussed it with his parents in China after his Mathematics Paper 2 exam, and they felt it was “not right”. They then told Zeus they did not wish to participate anymore, and he stopped attending lessons there.

The devices used in the elaborate scheme were Bluetooth devices that Fiona Poh, Feng and another accomplice, Tan Jia Yan, allegedly attached to the students’ bodies, along with a skin-coloured in-ear earphone, before they went into the exam centres. These devices were linked to mobile phones, which were concealed under the students’ clothing.

Either Fiona Poh or Tan, 32 – who used to work at Zeus and pleaded guilty in April to 27 charges of cheating – also sat for the exams. They allegedly registered separately as private candidates, with a hidden iPhone affixed to their chests so as to help the six students cheat.

Once the exams began, they purportedly used the video-calling app FaceTime to broadcast the exam papers back to their accomplices stationed at the tuition agency.

Once the three accomplices had the answers to the exam questions, they would call the students individually, and read out the answers to them.

The students, who received the instructions through their earphones, would then write the answers in their respective exam papers.

Tan had admitted to helping the students attach wearable Bluetooth devices onto their bodies before they went into the exam centres.

Similar to the previous two students’ testimony, Mr Zhang said that Tan and Fiona Poh told him that they would call him during the exam and read out the answers to him, and even spell out each word for him.

“If I heard them clearly, I should keep silent, if not, I should cough,” he added.

When questioned by Mr Fernando on who had called him during the exams to tell him the answers, he said it was a mix of male and female voices, but he could not recall for certain who they were.

Fiona Poh’s lawyer Nicolas Tang asked if it was his client who called Mr Zhang during the Mathematics Paper 2 exam.

When Mr Zhang said he was not sure, Mr Tang told him: “Let me put it to you that no answers were provided to you by any of the accused persons for (that exam).”

Mr Tang also accused Mr Zhang of making up the meeting with Fiona Poh and Pony Poh the day before the science practical exam. The tuition centre would always close at 1pm, the lawyer noted, but Mr Zhang had testified to meeting the two Pohs in the centre’s office between 3 to 5pm.

The trial continues on Thursday, with Feng’s lawyer James Chai set to cross-examine Mr Zhang.