Ex-principal appeals against embezzlement conviction

Anthony Tan Kim Hock, who is out on bail, was found guilty last year of embezzling $67,700. -- ST FILE PHOTO
Anthony Tan Kim Hock, who is out on bail, was found guilty last year of embezzling $67,700. -- ST FILE PHOTO

His lawyer criticises conduct of trial judge

The lawyer for former Maris Stella High principal Anthony Tan Kim Hock, sentenced to five months' jail for embezzlement, yesterday criticised the conduct of the trial judge which gave the impression that he was not impartial.

Mr Peter Low, arguing at Tan's appeal in the High Court, contended that District Judge Soh Tze Bian excessively intervened while witnesses - including Tan - were on the stand, carried out his own line of questioning and gave the impression he had already made up his mind that the former principal was guilty.

Among other things, Mr Low pointed to how, in 20 pages of transcripts, Judge Soh was recorded asking Tan 50 questions.

But Deputy Public Prosecutor Kwek Chin Yong countered that there was nothing improper as judges were entitled to question the logic of an accused's case and establish relevance.

The DPP said the questions centred on one issue - why Tan had not disclosed the bank accounts held by the school to its board of management - which the judge felt was an important point.

But Mr Low said it was "telling" that following the judge's "barrage of questions", prosecutors asked to see him in chambers to "resolve what is now going on". What went on in chambers was not revealed.

Tan, 66, who is out on bail pending appeal, was found guilty last year of embezzling $67,700. The Marist Brother used the money from a school chapel-building fund to renovate Champagnat House, the residence of his Catholic order in Flower Road.

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

Tan is appealing against his conviction and sentence, while the prosecution has also appealed, arguing that his jail term should be doubled to 10 months.

Mr Low maintained Tan had no dishonest intention when he used school funds to pay for the renovation works, as he believed the money belonged to the Marist Brothers, who set up the school.

But the DPP argued that the funds belonged to the school, which is not directly linked to Champagnat House.

Countering, Mr Low said that in the eyes of his client, who is from a religious order, all the money can be traced back to the Vatican.

It prompted Justice Chan Seng Onn to remark: "It all leads back to Rome." He reserved judgment and will give his decision at a later date.

selinal@sph.com.sg