Singapore

Jailed pre-school owner to serve more time

A pre-school owner, who has been in prison for more than two weeks for flouting a court order, will serve a further five months in jail for contempt of court.

On Wednesday (Sept 27), Senior Judge Andrew Ang imposed the additional jail term on Song Fanrong, 45, after her lawyer told the court she was "unable to raise any funds" to return the $300,000 she had collected from selling off a stake in her business.

The sale went against a court order to freeze her assets, pending the outcome of a $9.5 million lawsuit by three businessmen from China for alleged fraud. The three alleged that Song, a Singapore citizen originally from China, misled them into believing that she could help them move to Singapore if they invested at least $500,000 in a local company.

The judge had first committed Song, who ran eight kindergartens under her company Friedrich Frobel Holding, to prison on Sept 11 to see whether she would purge her contempt by repaying the money.

Song sold 2 per cent of her shares in Friedrich Frobel Holding and some of its stake in the Buttercups kindergarten chain. The payments totalling about $300,000 were made to her bank account in China.

Yesterday, Song's lawyer, Mr Siva Sothi, said she is unable to raise any money at all. He revealed that in a separate lawsuit that had concluded, Song was ordered to repay a US$300,000 (S$409,000) loan but was unable to do so.

Mr Sothi urged the court to impose a short jail term. He said Song was closing down her business because of a lack of funds and was "required to have an orderly closing of the kindergartens".

He argued that Song sold off the shares as she was desperate to save the business, highlighting bank transfers to the kindergartens.

But Mr Quek Mong Hua, lawyer for the plaintiffs, argued that Song was "leaving the kindergartens in the lurch". He said her actions have affected innocent third parties - his clients, the people to whom she sold the shares, kindergarten staff and children whose parents have paid the fees.

About a dozen representatives from the kindergartens and investors attended the hearing and were seen questioning Mr Quek.

The Frobel pre-school in Kallang is expected to close at the end of this month, affecting 32 children. This follows the closure of two pre-schools - in Sembawang and Namly Place - in late August.

A representative from the Kallang centre said yesterday that most of the parents have found other centres for their children and teachers might have to go for interviews at other places.

A 26-year-old clerical worker, who wanted to be known only as Ms Teo, said she has not been updated on whether her $2,000 fee deposit will be refunded. "Now we're mostly in limbo... The teachers said they have no news, just like us." — ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SUE-ANN TAN

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