Judge dismisses ex-Maris Stella principal’s appeal

FORMER Maris Stella High principal Anthony Tan Kim Hock, 67, was packed off to jail for five months yesterday after the High Court dismissed his appeal against his conviction and sentence for embezzlement.

Justice Chan Seng Onn also dismissed the prosecution's appeal to double Tan's jail term, saying that five months was "somewhat lenient" but not "manifestly inadequate".

Tan, dressed in a white long-sleeved shirt and dark trousers, appeared calm on hearing the verdict. 

After the court session ended, he spoke briefly to three friends before he was led away, carrying a backpack, by guards.

However, this may not be the end of his legal woes. Tan, who had been out on bail of $60,000 pending the outcome of his appeal, still faces 20 other counts of criminal breach of trust for siphoning school funds.

A pre-trial conference will be held at a later date for him to indicate how he wants to plead to these charges.

Tan, the longest-serving principal of Maris Stella High, was earlier convicted on a single count of misappropriating $67,679.05 from the school's chapel building fund between March and September 2009. 

Tan used this sum to pay for renovation work to Champagnat House, the official residence of his Catholic order, the Marist Brothers, in Flower Road near Kovan MRT station. 

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

Last June, Tan, who retired in 2009 after 25 years at Maris Stella, was sentenced to five months' jail by a district court.

Tan then appealed to overturn his conviction and sentence. The prosecution also appealed, pressing for 10 months' jail.

Yesterday, Justice Chan dismissed the appeals and upheld the district court's decision.

The High Court judge said he was not convinced by Tan's claim that he had believed it was acceptable to mix funds for the use of the school and Champagnat House as they both advanced the same religious mission and had a common root in Rome.

The judge said Tan knew that the school's chapel fund was meant for a specific purpose not connected to Champagnat House and that he needed approval from the school's board of management to use the money.

Justice Chan also rejected arguments by Tan's lawyer Peter Low that the conviction cannot stand because District Judge Soh Tze Bian had excessively interfered during the trial, creating the impression that he was not impartial.

Among other things, Mr Low had pointed to how, in 20 pages of transcripts, Judge Soh was recorded asking Tan 50 questions. But Justice Chan said judges were empowered to ask questions to get proof of relevant facts. 

In this case, he said, the extended exchange arose because Tan had struggled to give a satisfactory explanation to the judge's queries.

It was not a case of the trial judge embarking on his own line of questioning to build a case against Tan, he said.

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