SINGAPORE, April 19 — He was told to wear thicker clothing and a jacket to sit for his O-Level exams, but it was not because of the air-conditioning in the exam hall.
Instead, it was purportedly so Chinese national Zhou Zice, 17, could conceal the three Bluetooth devices taped to him that were connected to the iPhone in the back pocket of his trousers.
The second witness in the trial of Zeus Education Centre principal Poh Yuan Nie and two tutors, who allegedly helped six Chinese students to cheat during the 2016 O-Level exams, Zice largely corroborated evidence given by the first witness, fellow student Chen Xiang.
Zice, a private candidate, said he could also tune in to an audio feed via an “in-ear” earpiece for answers to questions in his Mathematics, English and Combined Science (Physics/Chemistry) test scripts.
He told the court yesterday he was not aware how Zeus managed to obtain answers to the exam questions.
He recalled bumping into one of his tutors at the exam venue for his maths exam.
“I was shocked to see her, but she pretended not to see me,” he said in Mandarin, admitting he had cheated on five occasions over four days from October 19 to 24 in 2016.
He and the other students were instructed to go to Zeus about two hours before each exam so the tutors could attach the devices to them, and test and inspect to see if the devices were visible.
After each sitting, they would return to the centre to remove the devices.
Zice said he was referred to Zeus by his guardian — a woman called Yang Fan — in July 2016, about a month before his English oral exam.
He had come to Singapore to take a preparatory course for the International Baccalaureate diploma programme at the Overseas Family School, but found it “very tedious”.
Classes at Zeus, on the other hand, were “very relaxed and “very simple”, he said through a translator.
Zice did not mention which tutor he had bumped into at the exam venue, but one of Poh’s alleged accomplices, 32-year-old former tuition teacher Tan Jia Yan, pleaded guilty to 27 charges of cheating on Monday.
Tan admitted sitting for the exam as a private candidate to help six Chinese nationals cheat in their O-Level examinations.
As part of the elaborate scheme, she used an iPhone and Apple’s video-calling app, Facetime, to beam images of the exam scripts back to Poh, 52, and the two co-accused, Fiona Poh Min, 30, and Feng Riwen, 25. From the tuition centre, they purportedly worked out the answers before calling the students individually to read out the answers to them.
The cheating went undetected for almost a week, until an invigilator heard unusual electronic transmission sounds coming from 20-year-old Chinese national Chen Yi during the English Paper 1 exam at Tampines Secondary School on Oct 24, 2016.
After he was caught, Chen told examiners about the arrangement with Zeus.
Investigations revealed that Zeus had a contract with someone called Dong Xin, the director of a company called Nou Cheng, who agreed to refer students.
The nature of Nou Cheng’s business is not known.
Zice testified that shortly after Chen Yi was caught, he received a call from Fiona Poh and Tan asking if any Ministry of Education (MOE) officer had contacted him.
When he went to Zeus to return the Bluetooth devices, he recalled the accused persons looking “very nervous”.
According to Zice, he was told that he did not have to sit for the rest of his papers and was instructed to lie if anyone from the ministry asked questions.
But defence lawyer Peter Fernando, who had on Tuesday accused Chen Xiang of being a liar, sought to poke holes in Zice’s testimony.
Fernando questioned why the student could not remember details like the first time he was informed about the plot to cheat.
Replying that he was tormented by the memory, Zice said he was only notified of the plan “a very short while” before October 19.
Fernando also claimed Zice lied about spotting Poh Yuan Nie, who is also known as Pony Poh, at the centre before 3pm when he was putting on the Bluetooth devices for an exam. Zice disagreed.
Fernando will continue cross-examining Zice today and more students are expected to take the stand.
Tuition centre set up with no signs
When Zeus Education Centre first set up shop at Block 367 Tampines Street 34 over two years ago, there was no signage indicating that it was a tuition agency.
Some residents living in the area told TODAY they used to peer into the space — which is the size of a typical classroom — to find out what business was being run.
They noted that there used to be a provision shop before Zeus moved in.
Housewife Rahimah Abdullah, 58, who has been living in the block for 12 years, said: “There’s no sign whatsoever outside. And their doors would be left open. Only after I looked inside than I realised it was a tuition agency.”
Zeus’s principal and teachers allegedly hatched an elaborated scheme to help six Chinese nationals cheat in their 2016 GCE O-Level examinations.
One of the teachers Tan Jia Yan pleaded guilty on Monday.
The centre’s principal Poh Yuan Nie, also known as Pony, tuition teacher Fiona Poh Min and Feng Riwen, who conducted some classes there, have claimed trial.
When TODAY went down to the centre, it was shut. Peering through the dusty window panes, the premise was barren.
According to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, the agency was registered in 2008.
Residents said it operated for about two years at their block before it abruptly shut in the second half of last year.
Another housewife, who wanted to be known as Ms Chia and lives in neighbouring Block 366, said she often walks past the tuition centre on her way to the provision shop.
She would see students sitting on the ledge of a wall outside the centre chatting away.
“Majority of the students are from China, based on their accent and how they dressed,” she added. — TODAY