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Former Woodgrove Secondary School HOD loses appeal, to begin jail term for taking student funds

Maslinda Zainal spent about S$40,000 in surplus funds that she collected from students in 2016 and 2017.

Former Woodgrove Secondary School HOD loses appeal, to begin jail term for taking student funds

Maslinda Zainal, 46, was convicted of two counts of criminal breach of trust as a public servant after a trial that spanned almost two years. (Photo: TODAY/Ili Nadhirah Mansor)

SINGAPORE: A former Head of Department for English at Woodgrove Secondary School will begin her jail term for taking S$40,000 in student funds after losing an appeal on Friday (Aug 12).

A High Court judge dismissed the appeal by Maslinda Zainal against her conviction and upheld her sentence of one-and-a-half years' jail.

Maslinda, 47, was found guilty of two counts of criminal breach of trust as a public servant last year, after rounds of court hearings where all 20 teachers in the English department testified.

She was in charge of collecting money that students submitted to their teachers for learning packages, but over-collected about S$40,000 between January 2016 and April 2017.

The school's lower-secondary head for English discovered the offences when she checked the amounts collected against the bookshop invoices and found discrepancies.

Maslinda admitted in police statements that she found it troublesome to return the surplus to students, and said that she used it to buy stationery and other items for them.

She later testified that the police pressed her to confess. But Justice Chua Lee Ming found no reason to disagree with the trial judge's finding that she gave the statements voluntarily. 

In the appeal, Maslinda challenged the amount of student funds that she was found guilty of taking.

Justice Chua rejected her arguments, saying that the trial judge's findings "cannot be said to be plainly wrong or against the weight of the evidence, save for a small reduction of S$12".

He said that the amount collected from the students was proven through their book lists, class lists and evidence from teachers, while the amount paid for the learning packages was evidenced by the bookshop invoices.

But he allowed a reduction of S$12 from the amount collected based on the evidence of a teacher who collected the money from the students.

Justice Chua also rejected Maslinda's argument that she was "just negligent, not dishonest", instead agreeing with the trial judge that she had dishonest intentions.

He upheld the trial judge's finding that Maslinda spent only some of the surplus funds on items for students, and that she used the rest for her personal expenses.

"In using the surplus to purchase stationeries and assessment books, the appellant had also acted dishonestly and did not act in good faith," he said.

Justice Chua also disagreed with Maslinda's assertion that the trial judge and prosecutor interfered in an egregious way during her defence lawyer's cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.

He agreed with the trial judge on the aggravating factors. This included betraying the trust she held as Head of Department and harming public confidence in the teaching service.

"Her submissions included blaming the school for not having implemented a better system for the collection of the monies from the students; this demonstrated a lack of remorse," he added.

Maslinda will start serving her sentence in two weeks, after being granted time to find a substitute for some classes she was teaching.

In response to CNA queries, the Ministry of Education said Maslinda has been suspended from duty since 2017, and that it will follow up with disciplinary proceedings after the court case.

"MOE takes a serious view of staff misconduct and will take disciplinary action against those who fail to adhere to our standards of conduct and discipline, including dismissal from service," said the ministry.

For criminal breach of trust as a public servant, she could have been jailed for up to 20 years and fined for each charge.

Source: CNA/dv(zl)

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