Ex-MOH doctor at heart of HIV data leak gets more jail time

Ler Teck Siang. Yahoo News Singapore file photo
Ler Teck Siang. Yahoo News Singapore file photo

SINGAPORE — The Singaporean doctor at the heart of a massive data breach from the country’s HIV registry was on Monday (21 December) found guilty after trial of failing to give a urine sample to an anti-narcotics officer.

Ler Teck Siang, 39, was handed a 10-month jail term after the verdict at the State Courts.

He also admitted to one count under the Official Secrets Act, for failing to take reasonable care of data in the HIV registry, which was considered in sentencing. He now has no outstanding criminal charges.

Ler, who currently does not have a certificate to practice medicine, had litigated in-person during his trial, as with his two previous trials – for drug crimes and cheating offences.

He will serve the new prison sentence after he completes his current jail term of one year and three months for narcotics offences. He had earlier completed a jail term of two years for cheating and giving false information to public servants.

Injected drug abuser in hotel room

In early 2018, Ler abetted another person, Sim Eng Chee, to take drugs by injecting the latter with methamphetamine, commonly known as “Ice”, in a hotel room at Swissotel The Stamford.

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 was paid for his services.

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 found a syringe among his belongings.

Two of the packets were later found to contain methamphetamine, while the third held ketamine.

For the drug offences, Ler was sentenced to one year and three months’ jail. In August, his appeal was dismissed.

Cheating offences, HIV data leak

Ler was the Head of the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) 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 got to know that Ler’s partner Mikhy K Farrera Brochez had data from the HIV registry in 2016. The couple were married in New York in 2014.

Brochez was convicted of numerous crimes in early 2017 and was sentenced to 28 months’ jail. He was deported to the US in April 2018 after serving his sentence.

Meanwhile, Ler, who swapped his blood sample in place of HIV-positive Brochez so that the latter could get an employment pass, was found guilty on two cheating charges and two counts of giving false information to a public servant. He was sentenced to two years’ jail in November 2018. His appeal was dismissed in March last year.

The month after Brochez was deported, MOH got to know that he 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.

That same month, 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 Brochez.

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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