The local authorities have denied allegations made by an American conman at the centre of the massive HIV data leak, calling them “baseless” and made by “a pathological liar” on Wednesday (13 February).
“Nevertheless, we welcome him to come back to Singapore to assist with police investigations,” added the police and the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) in a joint statement.
In a separate statement released on the same day, the Ministry of Health (MOH) similarly rebutted the claims, describing them as “false or unsubstantiated with any evidence”.
The authorities’ refutations come hours after a Facebook user claiming to be 34-year-old Mikhy Farrera-Brochez – a former educator previously jailed in Singapore over various offences – responded to multiple charges made against him by the government.
In multiple posts made on the social media platform, “Mikhy Brochez” denied stealing the database containing the personal details of thousands of patients with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) from the MOH’s HIV registry and leaking them to the public.
Brochez was previously in a relationship with Ler Teck Siang, 37, the former head of the MOH’s National Public Health Unit who oversaw the HIV registry.
In one of the Facebook posts, “Brochez” named two individuals whom he claimed had stolen it in 2012. “Brochez” also claimed that one of them harassed him and Ler, broke into their house on multiple occasions, and stole the latter’s work computer.
“I did not steal this database nor did I leak it to the public,” he added.
Both the police and the SPS said that the same individual was investigated by the police in 2016, following similar allegations levelled by Brochez.
The investigation, which included an interview and the examination of the individual’s electronic devices seized from his residence, did not reveal any evidence to suggest that he was either in possession of any MOH-related files or had shared any HIV registry data, said the authorities.
“Prior to 2016, Brochez also claimed in correspondences with the MOH that Dr Ler and (the same individual) had shared screenshots of Brochez’s own record in the HIV registry, but Brochez was never able to produce verifiable evidence to support this claim,” they added.
Allegations of gang-rape, regarding HIV medication
“Brochez” also leveled multiple allegations against individuals at the MOH and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam as well as police and prison officers, in the same post.
The post, which was initially removed by Facebook and reinstated later, has since been taken down after the release of the two statements.
It was attached with screenshots of emails he allegedly sent to various government agencies regarding the data leak in 2016.
“Brochez” further wrote that he was sexually assaulted in 2016 while in prison in Singapore and had then contracted HIV, not in 2008 as the government claimed.
“I was placed in a cell with Muslim inmates where I was gang-raped and infected with HIV,” he said.
The authorities have described the claims as “untrue”.
“This allegation was investigated by the police’s Internal Affairs Office. The office found that the allegations were untrue,” the joint statement by the police and the SPS said.
“On the contrary, during Brochez’s imprisonment, he committed a litany of institutional offences, including assaulting a fellow inmate. It is a matter of record that Brochez had contracted HIV, years before he was admitted into prison in 2016,” it added.
On allegations that “Brochez” made about being denied HIV medication by the police in 2016, authorities said that he had refused to submit himself for the necessary blood tests, despite declaring that he had been HIV-positive since 2008 when he was admitted into prison.
“Prisons eventually checked with the MOH, (given his refusal), and subsequently provided him with the necessary medication. AGC did not interfere with his medical treatment as he alleged and in fact, AGC has no authority to do so,” the joint statement added.
In other Facebook posts that remained online, he also attached screenshots of letters purportedly sent to him by an American physician and an American lawmaker.
Along with a letter allegedly sent by a Taylor Stai of Baptist Health Medical Group Primary Care in Lexington, Kentucky, “Brochez” wrote: “Blood test done recently show my health vitals all within normal range. If I had had HIV for ten years without being on Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) this would not be possible.”
When contacted, the medical group’s spokesperson declined to confirm the contents of the letter, citing the country’s Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) law, which prevents the disclosure of an individual’s protected health information.
However, the spokesperson said that a Taylor Stai practises internal medicine under the group.
In a post with a screenshot of a letter allegedly sent by an Andy Barr from the “Congress of the United State”, “Brochez” claimed that local authorities are “refusing to answer American diplomatic communiques and refusing to allow them access to (his) husband Ler”.
“Everything being said by the Lee regime is a bunch of lies,” he added.
Interview with Vice News
In an interview by New York-based Vice News published on the same day, Brochez similarly disputed the local authorities’ version of events.
He claimed that he had shared the registry with local and US government officials, as well as with the press, including a senior editor at CNN’s Hong Kong bureau, to prove that the data had already been exposed and that the Singapore government tried to cover up the leak.
“How can I leak something that was already leaked?” Brochez was quoted in the article. “The HIV registry is wrong, and I stood up to them,” he added.
In its statement, the MOH called his allegations of using the registry to target gay men untrue.
“The fact that there is such a registry is public knowledge and statistics on HIV infection rates from the HIV Registry are published annually,” the ministry added.
Vice News added that Brochez offered “multiple times” to show the HIV registry to the news outlet and that in September last year, he had similarly emailed it to Singapore broadsheet The Straits Times.
It also reported that Brochez was of the view that emailing the registry to the press was “not the same” as publicly leaking it.
According to Vice News, Brochez had texted a reporter – after the news outlet first reached out to him – with, “Will it hurt your story if I make some of the data public?”
The MOH said that it will work with the police to take appropriate actions, as Brochez, who may possess further information on the HIV registry, has now threatened to reveal them.
“Our priority remains the wellbeing of the affected individuals. We appeal to members of the public not to retain or share such information, as it could cause distress and anxiety amongst those affected. Please alert the police should you come across such information,” the ministry added.
Yahoo News Singapore has reached out to the Facebook user purported to be Brochez, the individual accused by the user of leaking the HIV registry, Barr well as the social media giant for further comments.
Both statements made by authorities did not mention whether they have confirmed that the allegations on Facebook were made by Brochez.
Yahoo News Singapore has reached out to the MOH, police and the Ministry of Home Affairs to confirm that the Facebook account belonged to Brochez.
The American is believed to be currently on bail in his home country after being arrested for trespassing his mother’s home in Kentucky’s Clark County in December last year.
According to media reports, he has been ordered to appear before a district court next week to face a third-degree criminal trespass charge.
Background of HIV data leak
The confidential data of 14,200 HIV-positive individuals and 2,400 others who were identified through contact tracing were leaked online by Brochez, said the MOH late last month.
The leak happened after Brochez was deported from Singapore over fraud and drug-related offences in April last year. Brochez had served a 28-month jail term for the offences.
Ler, who resigned from MOH in January 2014, was sentenced to 24 months’ jail in September last year for abetting Brochez in cheating and providing false information to the police and the MOH.
The cheating-related offences against Brochez and Ler involved the covering up of Brochez’s HIV-positive status to facilitate his employment application in Singapore.
Ler is currently awaiting the results of an appeal against his conviction and sentence.
In June 2016, Ler was also charged under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) for “failing to retain possession of a thumb drive” containing data from the HIV registry. His OSA charge has been stood down pending his appeal.
Delivering his Ministerial Statement in Parliament on Tuesday, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong revealed that the decision to issue Brochez “a stern warning” for possessing data on the HIV registry was because he would likely receive a fine or at most a few weeks’ jail for the offence.
“He was already facing numerous fraud and drug-related charges, which carried far heavier penalties. AGC also assessed that any jail term under the OSA was likely to be concurrent with jail terms that he would serve under the other offences,” added Gan.
– additional reporting by Nicholas Yong