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O-Level exam cheating trial: I dated alleged ringleader but thought she was a man, says tutor

SINGAPORE — When she was 17 years old, Tan Jia Yan got into a romantic relationship with her former tutor Poh Yuan Nie, better known as Pony Poh.

Former Zeus Education Centre principal Poh Yuan Nie.

Former Zeus Education Centre principal Poh Yuan Nie.

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SINGAPORE — When she was 17 years old, Tan Jia Yan got into a romantic relationship with her former tutor Poh Yuan Nie, better known as Pony Poh.

What she did not know during the seven years they were together was that Poh was really a woman. Poh, who then became the principal of Zeus Education Centre, eventually roped her in to become a tutor at Zeus.

Tan, who is now 33 years old, was testifying on Tuesday (July 23) as a prosecution witness in the ongoing trial of her ex-lover Poh, 53, and her two alleged accomplices — her niece Fiona Poh Min, 32, and Chinese national Feng Riwen, 27.

They are accused of helping six students from China, who attended tuition classes at Zeus, cheat at their O-Level examinations in 2016.

During the two-hour hearing on Tuesday, the prosecution walked Tan through the details of her relationship with Poh and how it eventually led to her involvement in the cheating operation.

Tan is the only one to have pleaded guilty to playing a part in the sophisticated scheme, which involved the use of FaceTime’s video-call function, carefully concealed mobile phones and Bluetooth devices. She was sentenced to three years’ jail in April.

She is appealing against her sentence, but the appeal has not been heard in the High Court.

BROKE UP OVER TEXT MESSAGE

Clad in a purple prison jumpsuit, Tan told the court on Tuesday that when she began seeing Poh romantically, she was taking O-Level tuition lessons at Pivot Tuition Centre in Tampines.

“I used to have tuition with her when I was aged 16. Subsequently, she initiated the relationship with me and deceived me that she was male. The relationship went on for seven years,” Tan said.

When Tan stopped taking classes at Pivot after graduating from secondary school, she would help out at the tuition centre, and also later at Zeus.

Tan said that she broke up with Poh in 2008 when she realised Poh was “deceiving” her about a relationship Poh had with another woman Wong Mee Keow, also known as Vivian, 40.

Wong, who owned Pivot, was fined last year for lying to the police in 2006 to protect Poh. Back then, the authorities had begun to investigate when they suspected Poh was helping Chinese nationals gain entry into a secondary school here without sitting for an entrance exam.

When Wong was questioned by the police then, she pretended she had no idea who Poh was. The investigation was dropped when leads did not pan out.

Poh was then arrested in 2016 for the alleged O-Level exam scam that is now before the court.

Wong tried to protect Poh again by deleting photographs of her from her own mobile phone, to prevent police from identifying her.

On Tuesday, Tan testified: “I knew someone (else) was involved, but I was being deceived that there was nothing between Pony and Wong. It was the last straw when I saw there was a text message, and I decided I should end the relationship.”

Under cross-examination by Poh’s lawyer, Mr Peter Keith Fernando, Tan said that she began dating Poh “a couple of months” after completing her O-Levels.

“I didn’t know it was a lesbian relationship. I thought it was a boy-and-girl relationship,” she added.

When Mr Fernando asked if she was intimate with Poh, Tan replied that she was during the seven years they were together. She also agreed that she was in love with Poh, and broke up with her when she was about to graduate from university.

“I saw a text message on Pony’s phone, sent by Wong. It stated, ‘I love you’,” Tan said. She also agreed with Mr Fernando that the message affected her “very badly”.

The lawyer then charged: “My instructions are that everything you have alleged in your testimony regarding Pony’s involvement in assisting students to cheat in exams is a pack of lies by you. You have made it up.” 

Tan disagreed.

Mr Fernando added: “I put to you that the reason you have come to court to falsely implicate my client is because you have harboured a deep-seated grudge against Pony. In actual fact, she dumped you after a seven-year relationship and you were left helpless.”

Tan responded that she felt sad.

HOW THE EXAM CHEATING HAPPENED

In details previously revealed in court, Tan explained on Tuesday how she worked with Poh, Fiona Poh and Feng to help their students to cheat in O-Level exams.

For a few exam papers between Oct 19 and 24, 2016, Tan smuggled an iPhone into exam halls by affixing it to her chest with scotch tape. She said that Fiona Poh helped to strap the phone on, and gave her the Bluetooth device and earpiece.

The students were also allegedly outfitted with skin-coloured, Bluetooth earphones linked to mobile devices that were well-concealed under their clothing. The answers were given to them via the devices.

Tan testified that she helped to register the students for the exams, putting down email addresses she herself created, and residential addresses that were Poh’s, Fiona Poh’s, or the tuition centre’s.

Using the phone’s FaceTime video-call function, Tan said that she allowed Feng and Fiona Poh, who were stationed at the tuition centre’s premises, to view the exam questions and work out the answers.

The duo and Pony Poh would then call the students individually to read out the answers to them, the court had previously heard.

On Oct 24, 2016, an exam supervisor caught one of the students, Chen Yi, who was sitting for the English Paper 1 exam.

Tan said Poh suggested that Chen Yi return to China, and got Tan and Fiona Poh to go to Changi Airport later to check if he had left on a flight. Tan was later arrested on Oct 27, 2016.

The trial continues on Sept 2.

Related topics

O-Level exam cheating Zeus Tan Jia Yan Pony Poh tution

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