HIV data leak: MOM takes 'risk-based approach' in assessing employment pass applications

Wong Casandra
Senior Reporter
Mikhy K Farrera Brochez, (PHOTOS: social media, mugshot.com)

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) takes a “risk-based approach” when verifying employment pass applications, MOM said on Thursday (31 January) in response to media queries about an American fraudster at the heart of a major HIV data leak.

Mikhy K Farrera Brochez was identified on Monday by the Ministry of Health (MOH) as the culprit behind the online leak of confidential data belonging to 14,200 HIV-positive individuals and 2,400 others who were identified through contact tracing.

The 34-year-old US citizen, who is HIV-positive, also deceived the MOM into issuing him an employment pass in March 2008 by submitting the blood of his 36-year-old partner, Dr Ler Teck Siang, as part of the application.

Foreigners with HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, are not allowed to work in Singapore.

Brochez’s ruse nearly came to light in October 2013 when the MOH raised suspicions about his HIV status, but by employing the same trick in the following month, he managed to retain his employment pass with the MOM.

Around the same time, he also submitted fake academic certificates to the ministry.

The certificates, reportedly including a linguistics degree from Vanderbilt University, a Master’s degree in developmental and child psychology as well as a doctorate in psychology and education from the University of Paris, were later found to be forged during police investigations in May 2016. 

According to the MOM’s website, an employment pass is for professionals who have an offer in Singapore for a managerial, executive or specialised job.

(SOURCE: mom.gov.sg)

He or she must also earn a fixed monthly salary of at least $3,600 and possess “acceptable qualifications”, such as a good university degree.

(SOURCE: mom.gov.sg)

An employer or authorised third party has to apply for a candidate’s employment pass.

“Before making an application for an employment pass, the employer would have already evaluated the candidate, including his qualifications,” said the MOM spokesperson.

She added, “The majority of employers take this role seriously, as they also have an interest to ensure that their selection and recruitment of foreigners is rigorous.”

When asked if the MOM had separately verified Brochez’s credentials, the spokesperson told Yahoo News Singapore that it takes “a risk-based approach” by “conducting additional checks and verifications on selected applications”.

The ministry’s criteria for the selection is not known. It also declined to reveal when Brochez’s employment pass was revoked.

“Due to the need to maintain operational confidentiality, we are unable to reveal more,” said the spokesperson.

Employment in education field

Brochez’s first job in Singapore was at an educational services company, said the MOM, without naming the company.

Checks with Temasek Polytechnic (TP) confirmed that Brochez had joined the school as a lecturer in February 2009. He left the school in January 2011 when his contract expired.

In June 2011 till April 2012, the American was employed as an adjunct lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP), said its spokesperson.

At TP, Brochez taught students undertaking diplomas in Psychology Studies and Early Childhood Studies. During his stint in NP, he taught in the School of Humanities & Social Sciences.

Spokespersons for both polytechnics said that the schools had verified his education certificates against original copies submitted as part of the recruitment practices.

Based on documents that Brochez submitted in his application for the job in 2008, he had met the requirements, said the TP spokesperson.

Similarly, the NP spokesperson said, “Candidates for teaching positions are assessed and selected based on their professional knowledge and job-related skills, as well as work experience supported by academic and/or professional certificates.”

Both schools were later alerted by the police in 2016 that Brochez’s certificates were false.

Brochez was arrested in Singapore in the same year for various crimes, including fraud and drug-related offences, and was subsequently sentenced to 28 months’ jail. He was deported last year after serving his sentence.

While the MOM declined to provide Brochez’s full employment history from 2008 to 2016 before his arrest, he is believed to have also separately set up a private practice in child psychology sometime in 2008.

The ministry’s spokesperson, again citing operational confidentiality, also did not respond to media queries on whether it had received complaints from members of the public or employers in relation to Brochez’s employment in Singapore and if so, how many were received.

However, the spokesperson said that the ministry would investigate an employment pass holder for breach of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, in cases where reports have been made to the MOM by employers who have discovered that they have been “misled” by the pass holder.

Yahoo News Singapore has reached out to several other educational institutions to enquire if Brochez had been employed by them. As of press time, Nanyang Polytechnic has replied to say that Brochez had never been an employee of the school.

Tighter hiring checks

Both TP and NP told Yahoo News Singapore that they have strengthened their hiring processes since the incident, including going the additional step of verifying submitted educational certificates with the issuing institutions.

The TP spokesperson added that it had also introduced enhanced background checks on applicants’ former employers in 2014 as part of a regular review of their hiring policies. “Our HR department also contacts the employers to obtain details about the candidate’s employment with them,” said the spokesperson.

She also clarified that a previous media report in 2010 was erroneous in stating that Brochez was involved in the setting up of a child psychology clinic in the polytechnic.

He was never involved in the setting up of a child psychology clinic in TP. TP has never had a child psychology clinic,” said the spokesperson.

Brochez is believed to be currently on bail in the US 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 on 18 February to face a third-degree criminal trespass charge.

Brochez’s latest residence is listed in documents seen by Yahoo News Singapore as Winchester, a city in Clark County.

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