SINGAPORE — The Singaporean doctor at the heart of a massive data breach from the country’s HIV registry on Friday (28 August) lost his appeal against conviction for drug-related crimes.
Ler Teck Siang, 39, had claimed trial last year to abetting another person, Sim Eng Chee, to take drugs by administering the latter methamphetamine, commonly known as “Ice”, in a hotel room at Swissotel The Stamford on 26 February 2018. Sim paid Ler for the service.
He also denied having a drug-taking utensil in the form of a syringe at the lobby of another hotel, the Conrad Centennial Singapore, a few days later on 2 March.
For the drug offences, Ler was sentenced to one year and three months’ jail. At the time, he still had a practicing certificate, which is required to practise medicine in Singapore.
On Friday, Ler, who currently does not have a practising certificate, litigated in-person at the virtual High Court hearing, just as he did during his trial at the State Courts.
Ler appeared before Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang from Changi Prison, where he is now serving a jail term of two years for cheating and giving false information to public servants.
He started serving the two-year term for these offences in March last year, after an unsuccessful appeal against conviction and sentence. His jail term for the drug offences had been ordered to run after he completes his current imprisonment term.
Ler still faces two other charges, for which he intends to also claim trial – failing to provide a urine sample for drug testing under the Misuse of Drugs Act, and failing to take reasonable care of data in the HIV Registry under the Official Secrets Act.
Got to know drug abuser via app
Sim, a self-confessed drug abuser who has already been dealt with for possession and use of methamphetamine, got to know about Ler sometime in 2017 at a sex and drugs party.
Sim connected with Ler via the Grindr dating app and engaged his “slamming” services on a number of occasions. The colloquialism refers to the practice of injecting drugs. Ler would charge $40 for the service, and any fees incurred for one-way transport.
At about 6.30pm on 26 February 2018, Sim and Ler met in a room at the Swissotel The Stamford hotel for a “slamming” session. Ler injected methamphetamine into Sim via a syringe. Ler was paid for his services.
Arrested at hotel lobby
A few days later, on 1 March, Sim booked a room at the Conrad Centennial Hotel, initially intending to stay for just one night. But he later decided to extend his stay by one day.
He proceeded to Geylang to purchase drugs while contacting sex partners and Ler for his slamming service.
When Sim returned to the hotel, he met Ler at the lobby and the two went to the hotel room. However, Sim was unable to gain access to the room with his key card.
Sim had forgot to inform staff that he wanted to extend his stay, and they had found suspected drugs and drug-related paraphernalia – including three packets containing a white substance, a syringe and a blue strap — in the safety deposit box in the room.
When Sim returned to the reception with Ler, he saw the hotel staff at the lift and felt something was amiss. He told Ler to stay away as he proceeded to the reception counter for assistance.
Both Sim and Ler were handed over to the police, and later the Central Narcotics Bureau.
Officers who searched Ler at the hotel also found a syringe among his belongings.
Two of the packets were later found to contain methamphetamine, while the third held ketamine.
HIV data leak
In January last year, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that the HIV-positive status of 14,200 people, along with their names, identification numbers and contact details, had been leaked online by American fraudster Mikhy K Farrera Brochez, 34, who was Ler’s partner. They were married in New York in 2014.
Ler was the Head of MOH’s National Public Health Unit (NPHU) from March 2012 to May 2013 with access to the HIV registry. He resigned from MOH in January 2014.
MOH said it got to know that Brochez had data from the HIV registry in 2016. Brochez was convicted of numerous crimes in early 2017 and was sentenced to 28 months’ jail. He was deported in April 2018 after serving his sentence.
The month after his deportation, MOH got to know that Brochez still had the confidential data, but which had not been disclosed publicly. On 22 January last year, the ministry was notified that the data had gone online.
Brochez sent two e-mails in January and February to Singapore government officials, threatening to disseminate the data unless his demands were met.
In September last year, Brochez was jailed for two years in the US for extorting the Singapore government. He was also ordered to forfeit the electronic devices and Google accounts he had used in his crimes.
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