CLAIMING that a needy student needed to borrow money, a former secondary school teacher tricked one of his students into handing over $4,000.

But the needy student never existed, and the man took the money for himself.

Low Yiming was yesterday jailed for four months for cheating his former student on three occasions in 2011.

The 31-year-old, who has since returned the money to the student, pleaded guilty to one count, with the other two taken into consideration during sentencing.

In an unrelated offence, he was also fined $1,500 for stealing, together with an accomplice, $124.30 worth of products from Mustafa Centre last August.

The court heard that Low, who was then employed by the Ministry of Education (MOE), was sent to work in a school in Bedok. That was where he met then Secondary 4 student Lai Jinhua.

Around 1pm on Oct 14, 2011, he sent a text message to Mr Lai, an overaged student who is now 22, saying that he was helping a Sec 3 student who was in need of $2,000. He asked if Mr Lai could lend some money.

Low later called Mr Lai and said the money was needed urgently. When asked who the needy student was, Low said the student did not wish to disclose his identity. Trusting his relief teacher, who had taught his class on a few occasions, Mr Lai transferred $2,000 to Low’s bank account the same day.

He handed over another $2,000 two days later, in two separate transactions.

According to court documents, Low was suspended in the light of the cheating charges. But he later resigned and has since been paying damages to MOE, said his lawyer, Louis Joseph.

Pleading for leniency for his client, Mr Joseph cited a psychiatric report that said the accused had been desperate for money to support his terminally ill father, but was too embarrassed to tell the truth.

He had no intention to deceive his former student and planned to return the money, the report said.

The report added that when Low committed the theft on Aug 4 last year, he was under “immense” financial, mental and emotional stress. His girlfriend committed suicide a few months after his father’s death in August 2012, and his diabetic mother’s condition had worsened last year.

The man, who seemed to be experiencing symptoms of stress-related anxiety and depression, felt he had “nothing to lose” even if caught, said the report.

For each count of cheating to get Mr Lai to hand over money, the former teacher could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

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