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Probe 'focusing on travel agencies set up in schools'

Probe of former River Valley High School principal is believed to centred on travel agencies set up in schools under his watch. -ST
Kezia Toh And Stacey Chia

Mon, Dec 24, 2012
The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) probe involving former River Valley High School principal Steven Koh Yong Chiah is believed to centre on travel agencies set up in schools under his watch.

These agencies were established at Jurong Junior College and River Valley High School to run school trips to countries such as China and Indonesia.

Principals who spoke to The Straits Times said that siting a business - apart from traditional ones such as bookshops - on school grounds is uncommon.

A principal said such a practice is "simply not allowed". "Why does a school need a travel agency? I've never heard of anything like that."

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said on Wednesday that it had replaced Mr Koh, 58, as principal of the top school. He will be redeployed to MOE's headquarters as principal (special projects), to assist in curriculum development work.

Before he became principal of River Valley High School in 2009, he headed Jurong Junior College from 2003 to 2009.

Under his watch, a travel agency was set up in the college's canteen. The agency organised the college's overseas community involvement programme trips to places such as Manado in Indonesia and Yunnan in China. It also ran similar trips for other schools. It is no longer operating at the college.

When Mr Koh moved to River Valley High, a similar travel agency was set up on the premises of the school's hostel, sources said.

Staff were uncomfortable with this arrangement, said a former employee of the school. "A commercial vendor which provided overseas trip services should not have its office located in a school it could potentially provide services to - its staff were even free to walk around the premises and use its facilities."

While it is not known how Mr Koh is linked to the agency, he is known to be a shareholder of Piaget Academy, a private educational group which runs Singapore-style schools in Indonesia. River Valley High School students have been known to visit the schools in Indonesia.

A current teacher confirmed the existence of a travel agency. He said he found out about it as it caused a stir among other teachers who found it odd to have such a business on campus.

When asked about the agency, the school's vice-principal Loi Guang You would say only that any information is on the frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the school's website.

The FAQ section states that there is a "one-stop travel advisory service" at the hostel to cater to the travel needs of foreign students, such as buying air tickets. It is unclear if it is the same agency the former employee was referring to.

Separately, sources quoted by Lianhe Wanbao on Thursday said the CPIB probe may also involve a businesswoman rumoured to be linked to Mr Koh. She runs several companies providing education-related services, such as organising overseas trips and offering consultancy services, said the report.

The woman was not home when The Straits Times visited her condominium unit yesterday.A neighbour said the apartment is usually empty as she seems to travel often.

Meanwhile, shareholders of Piaget Academy said they were unaware of the firm's dealings. A shareholder, who is a department head at a prestigious school here, said she is merely a "sleeping partner" of the company. She did not say if she knew Mr Koh.

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