S'pore court orders former INSEAD student who harassed dean, fired blanks from gun at campus, to pay S$30,000

The court also granted the dean a protection order against the student.

Khine Zin Htet | November 21, 2023, 04:00 PM


WhatsappA former INSEAD student harassed the school's dean through numerous emails containing insults and threats and through online articles for over two years.

Following the harassment, the dean, who resides in Singapore, and the institution both applied for a protection order against the student, Gao, and sought compensation under the Protection from Harassment Act.

According to the judgment made publicly available on Nov. 21, 2023, after the first tranche of the trial conducted over Zoom in March and May 2022, Gao was arrested in France on Jun. 25 2022, for vandalising INSEAD’s French campus and firing blanks at the campus guards with a handgun.

Dismayed at news of school collaboration with another institution

The judgment revealed that Gao, who resides in Germany, was enrolled in the Tsinghua-INSEAD Executive MBA Programme (TIEMBA) for the class of 2020.

INSEAD is a business school with campuses in numerous countries, including Singapore and France.

Gao started harassing the school and the dean after reading an online article claiming that INSEAD had signed a strategic cooperation agreement with a Chinese institution.

Thinking that the institution had a "dubious reputation" and was concerned that the TIEMBA certification's value would be diminished, Gao wrote a paper criticising INSEAD and the dean for the decision.

However, INSEAD denied having any agreement with the institution and terminated Gao from the TIEMBA on Sep. 19, 2019, for a breach of their student code of conduct — sending inappropriate communications to INSEAD members, affiliates and participants.

Sent emails and wrote articles insulting the dean and the school

Following his termination, Gao sent emails on Sep. 23 and Sep. 28, 2019, to the dean and others in INSEAD to harass him.

Gao also wrote an article in the China Entrepreneur Magazine (CEM) on Nov. 24, 2020, criticising INSEAD and the dean.

After INSEAD and the dean took legal action in February 2021, Gao sent another email on Oct. 18, 2021, threatening to release a tell-all book.

Gao admitted to sending all three emails and authoring the article.

The judge found that Gao’s conduct was unreasonable in sending the emails, saying that "the animosity displayed in his language went beyond mere criticism of the alleged collaboration and amounted to a personal attack on [the dean's] character".

Using pseudonymous email accounts to send more emails

INSEAD and the dean claimed that Gao used pseudonymous email accounts to send four other harassing emails containing abusive and insulting words to them.

Gao denied.

However, INSEAD and the dean's German legal counsel obtained investigation reports from the German police, which had seized Gao's IT equipment in relation to complaints of stalking.

The judge said that the reports showed that Gao was the sender of the four emails, and his conduct was not reasonable.

Gao also denied posting two other online articles, but the judge found one of them to be written by him due to the allegations being specific to an incident he encountered.

Fired blanks at campus security after trial had begun

After the first tranche of the trial in March and May 2022, Gao went to the INSEAD campus in France on Jun. 26, 2022.

He damaged INSEAD’s logo and spray painted abusive and threatening words like “F*ck [dean's name]” and “DEANTH” (perceived by the dean to be a combination of the words “Dean” and “Death”) on the campus walls.

Gao also fired blanks with a handgun at the security guards who tried to stop him. He was eventually detained by the French police and found to have more blanks on him.

Following that, he also sent emails saying, “Next time, will I still use blanks? Let’s see!" as well as “F*ck you INSEAD! F*ck u [dean's name]!” and “As much as you lie you will be f*cked much harder. No matter where you are hiding, in Singapore, New York, France or Bulgaria!”.

While these incidents of harassment happened outside Singapore, the judge found them relevant to show an escalation in Gao’s hostility towards the dean.

Judge grants protection order to dean but not INSEAD

The judge found that Gao's harassment of the dean was likely to continue and granted the dean a protection order against Gao.

Gao is prohibited from using any threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or making any threatening, abusive or insulting communications likely to cause the dean harassment, alarm or distress.

The judge also ordered that no person shall publish or continue to publish the two articles previously published by Gao, found to be harassing to the dean.

However, she didn't grant INSEAD a protection order.

After reviewing the Protection of Harassment Act, the judge found that the law protects "individuals" and not  "entities", and hence, INSEAD cannot be said to be a "victim" of Gao's harassment.

While she declined to order compensation to the dean due to legalities, she ordered Gao to pay the dean S$30,000 in legal costs, plus reasonable disbursements.

Other than the case in Singapore, the parties were embroiled in litigation in France over INSEAD’s decision to terminate Gao from the TIEMBA. INSEAD also took legal action against Gao in Germany.

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