Teacher misappropriated more than $40k of students' money for own use

Shaffiq Alkhatib
The Straits Times
January 11, 2021

The former head of department (HOD) of English and literature at Woodgrove Secondary School was convicted on Monday (Jan 11) of misappropriating cash from students totalling more than $40,000.

District Judge Ng Cheng Thiam found Maslinda Zainal, 46, guilty on two counts of criminal breach of trust after a trial.

Maslinda had been tasked to collect the money students gave to their English teachers for learning materials known as Excel packages.

The prosecutors said that Maslinda was entrusted with cash totalling nearly $35,000 in 2016 and more than $36,000 the following year.

However, the sum she collected was more than what was actually needed for the learning materials.

Maslinda paid Madam Cheng Bee Lian, who ran the school bookshop, about $13,000 in 2016 and $17,000 in 2017, the sums stated in the invoices.

The teacher, who is suspended from her school, then misappropriated the remaining sum, taking more than $21,000 in 2016 and almost $20,000 in 2017.

In their submissions, Deputy Public Prosecutors David Koh and Stephanie Chew said that she was "an educator of considerable experience".

Maslinda had joined the school in 2002, and was appointed HOD four years later.

"In her capacity as HOD, she oversaw the collection of student monies by the teachers in the English department for resource packages and liaised with the bookstore that printed the resource packages.

"The accused was the only one who knew that an excess of monies had been collected from the students - and that what the bookstore was charging was far less than the amounts collected from the students," the prosecutors said.

Her offences came to light when a subject head at the school, Madam Jacqueline Chan, found discrepancies between the amount collected by the English department and the sum given in the bookshop's invoice.

In January 2016, Madam Chan asked Madam Cheng to provide her with a copy of the invoices. The court heard that the bookshop operator replied that Maslinda had told her not to hand them over to Madam Chan.

But Madam Cheng eventually gave them to the subject head.

The prosecutors said that Madam Chan was "quite shocked" when she saw actual the amounts.

She later informed one of the school's vice-principals and the matter was escalated to the principal. After an investigation, the principal alerted the police on April 17, 2017, and officers arrested Maslinda later that day.

In her defence, Maslinda, who is represented by lawyers Singa Retnam and Josephine Iezu Costan, claimed she did not count or keep records of the amount she received from the teachers.

She also said the invoices before the court did not fully reflect the sums paid to Madam Cheng, and that the excess monies had been used for the benefit of the students - to purchase stationery and other items.

But in her police statements, she said she had taken at least part of the cash for her own personal expenses such as food.

"I did not give anyone the money. I did not invest the money or buy anything lavish," she told investigators.

During the trial, the DPPs said she had presented inconsistent claims about what exactly she purchased with the excess money and failed to "adduce any objective evidence to support her story".

Maslinda, whose bail was set at $30,000 on Monday, will be sentenced on Feb 24.

For each count of criminal breach of trust, an offender can be jailed up to 10 years and fined.

The Straits Times

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