HIV data leak: Ler Teck Siang's appeal against conviction, prison term rejected

·Assistant News Editor
Former medical doctor Ler Teck Siang, whose American boyfriend Mikhy Farrera-Brochez is at the centre of the HIV data leak, pictured at the High Court on Monday, 11 March 2019. PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore
Former medical doctor Ler Teck Siang, whose American boyfriend Mikhy Farrera-Brochez is at the centre of the HIV data leak, pictured at the High Court on Monday, 11 March 2019. PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore

The Singaporean lover of American fraudster Mikhy Farrera-Brochez had his appeal against a conviction and two-year prison term dismissed at the High Court on Monday (11 March).

In delivering his judgement, High Court Judge Chua Lee Ming told Ler Teck Siang, 37, “In my view, the evidence against you is convincing…You played an active role as an instigator, not just as an accessory.”

Judge Chua added, “You have given your statements voluntarily. Your explanations for what you have said in your statements are creative, and in part, illogical. I am not persuaded that the sentences given (to you)…are manifestly excessive.”

Ler, who was representing himself, will begin serving his sentence on 21 March. Dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and tie, he requested that his sentence begin three weeks later. He told the court that he needed time to settle his personal affairs, as well as to arrange the witnesses and exhibits for the trials relating to other charges he is facing.

Judge Chua allowed Ler to begin his sentence in nine days’ time. It was to start on 20 March, but his mother Ong Yap Keng, who was Ler’s bailor, requested that the sentence begin later as her older son’s birthday falls on that date.

“I do not want it to be on the same day,” she told the court through a Mandarin interpreter.

Background to the case

Last November, Ler was sentenced to two years’ jail after he was found guilty on two cheating charges and two counts of giving false information to a public servant after a trial.

The former medical doctor admitted to helping Brochez submit fake blood samples on two occasions, in order to obtain an employment permit for the American and to hide his HIV-positive status. Ler is the former head of the Ministry of Health (MOH)’s National Public Health Unit (NPHU). He resigned from the MOH in January 2014.

The MOH and the police had investigated the blood test that Brochez, 34, had purportedly undergone at a medical centre.

Ler lied to an MOH investigator in December 2013 that he did not attend to Brochez at the medical Centre. He also lied to a police investigator in January 2014 that it was Brochez’s blood which was tested in November 2013.

Separately, Ler faces charges under the Official Secrets Act for failing to take reasonable care of confidential information, as well as drug-related charges. He had access to the HIV Registry in his role as the NPHU head.

He has been out on bail of $40,000 following his sentence last year, and is currently being electronically tagged. Judge Chua also acceded to the prosecution’s request for him to observe a daily curfew (10am – 6pm), as the former regards him as a flight risk. The prosecution requested that these arrangements be continued until he serves his jail term.

Ler’s other charges will be heard in May and July.

‘Deliberately fabricated’ statements and a ‘bargaining chip’

During his court appearance, Ler began his defence by asserting that “certain key information” in the confessions he had given to police in relation to his first trial was “deliberately fabricated” and “75 per cent true but 25 per cent false”.

He said that he had done so in order to give police a “bargaining chip” that could stop Brochez from disseminating confidential MOH data. He also claimed that it was an “impulsive reaction” in response to what he saw as discrimination by MOH.

Ler also disputed a key part of the prosecution’s case: that Brochez had taken a HIV blood test at the Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association (SATA) Chinatown clinic using a fake Bahamian passport in May 2008, in order to ascertain his HIV status.

It was after Brochez tested positive that Ler provided his blood sample for the former, in order to get an employment permit from the Ministry of Manpower, as HIV-positive individuals are not allowed to work in Singapore. Ler denied having done so and claimed that Brochez must have gotten someone else to take the test for him.

When asked by Judge Chua why Brochez would do so, Ler said that the American was afraid of needles, adding, “It has been shown that Brochez has no regard for the law and any rules. He is known to be a fraudster.”

The prosecution responds

Representing the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck asserted that Ler’s conviction was “well-founded”, pointing to three main pillars of evidence.

Firstly, the admissions made by Ler in his statements, which provided a “very comprehensive account, replete with details, which closely match the documentary evidence”.

Kwek noted that no police officer had told Ler they wanted a confession as a bargaining chip. “The idea that the police wanted Dr Ler to give them a ‘bargaining chip’ but did not even communicate this to him beggars belief.”

Ler’s assertion that MOH had engaged in “persistent persecution” against him was also “illogical, said Kwek, given that the police investigation was independent of MOH’s internal investigation and occurred two years after Ler had resigned from MOH.

Secondly, Ler’s own statements were corroborated by objective evidence. For example, it was “absolutely clear” that Brochez was the one who tested HIV positive at SATA Chinatown clinic, given numerous points of evidence such as Brochez’s own confession and the fact that his face appears clearly on the fake Bahamian passport.

Kwek also pointed to the testimony of Dr Wong Chen Seong, an “independent and uninterested witness” who testified that Ler and Brochez had approached him for help with falsifying a blood test.

Thirdly, Kwek cited Brochez’s own admissions. The prosecutor noted that while Brochez has lied in many areas, he has been “consistent in admitting his guilt for the cheating and false information charges”.

Kwek concluded by charging that Ler’s explanations for lying to an MOH investigator were “greatly conflicting” and “inconsistent”.

14,200 HIV-positive patients’ details leaked by Brochez

Ler and Brochez got married in New York City in April 2014.

It was revealed by MOH in January that Brochez leaked the personal details of some 14,200 HIV-positive patients online.The leaked data included the affected individuals’ names, identification numbers, contact details, HIV test results, and related medical information.

He has since made numerous allegations against individuals at the MOH and the AGC, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam as well as police and prison officers.

Among Brochez’s claims – he contracted HIV after being raped by Muslim inmates while serving a jail term in Singapore for fraud and drug-related offences, and that the Singapore government was preventing him from contacting Ler. These have been dismissed by authorities as “baseless” and made by “a pathological liar”.

The Singapore Prison Services has also filed a police report over an email sent by Brochez containing the confidential data of 13 HIV-positive individuals.

Last month, Brochez was charged in a federal court in Kentucky with threatening to extort the Singapore government. He has also been charged with possession and unlawful transfer of stolen personal data.

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HIV data leak: Affected persons can sue MOH but proving damages would be hard, lawyers say

COMMENT: HIV data leak – What is your excuse now, MOH?

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