SINGAPORE — The doctor at the centre of the HIV data leak said he did not reveal to the authorities the prostatic massages that he was giving to a client as he feared being persecuted under a law that criminalises sex between two men.
Ler Teck Siang was explaining in court on Thursday (25 July) the omission of the massages in his statements to the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB).
The locum general practitioner was trying to clarify the differences between his court testimony and the three statements he had given to the CNB after his arrest for allegedly providing “slamming services” to his clients.
Slamming services refer to the administering of drugs by a person to others through injections into their bloodstream.
Ler, 38, is accused of providing these services to Sim Eng Chye, a 44-year-old management trainee, on 26 February last year at Swissotel The Stamford hotel.
On 2 March last year, Ler was allegedly about to provide the same service in Conrad Centennial Hotel when he was arrested. He was found with a syringe, two straws and a bottle in his backpack, and was investigated by CNB officers for possible drug offences.
In his first statement to the CNB, Ler claimed to have used the syringe to flush out leftover food in his teeth. After the syringe was analysed and found to have been stained with methamphetamine, Ler then said he remembered obtaining the syringe from his partner Mikhy Farrera Brochez.
Ler, who is currently suspended from practice, did not mention in his statements to the CNB that he was providing prostatic massages to Sim, an argument that he had raised in court.
In an earlier hearing, Ler said that he was giving prostatic massages, which involved using fingers to put pressure on the prostate, to sexually arouse Sim.
Embarrassed about massage service: Ler
Ler, who is not represented, gave the court several reasons for omitting his massage services in his statements.
“At that point I was embarrassed that I was providing prostatic massage services, it’s not because the service is wrong. But to me it is a private and personal service to be providing and hence not something I want to share with CNB officers so I did not mention it,” said Ler.
He feared “implicating” himself for providing the massage service while not acting as a doctor.
“I am not providing this service in the capacity of a medical practitioner so I am not certain whether this might constitute an offence under 377A under the Penal Code.” Sex between men is illegal under Section 377A.
None of the officers had asked him about slamming and hence, he did not mention prostatic massages to them, he added.
Primary goal to treat Sim’s wound, not give massages: Ler
Sim first consulted Ler at his clinic on 29 December 2017 to treat an abscess that had developed on his left elbow.
Ler stated in a previous hearing that he was giving Sim massages, medical advice and treatment for his wound as part of the package.
However, on Thursday, Ler said that his main goal in meeting Sim at the clinic was to dress Sim’s wound.
District Judge Christopher Goh asked Ler, “If your primary aim of engaging Sim was to change the dressing, on 26 February, why did you say ‘Hello, where and for how many’?”
Ler replied that he asked the question as Sim might have wanted him to perform prostatic massages for his partners.
In response to a subsequent question, Ler added, “My primary aim is to make sure his wound healed properly, but his primary aim was for sports and prostatic massages.”
Ler produces two defence witnesses
Two defence witnesses also testified, of whom one was a medical director at the clinic where Ler saw Sim for his abscess.
Dr Ng Tsorng Chinn described Ler as a “good doctor” who was “responsible” and “caring”.
“I would say that in our short two years of partnership, I was so impressed with him that I made him my posterboy, most of our editorial images are (of) his.
“It’s unfortunate what we see in press in general has been negative and he's not that guy, that’s why I am here today.” said Dr Ng.
On Ler’s alleged slamming services, Dr Ng found them “unbelievable” as Ler would have had to “lead a very different and double life”.
The second witness was Chris Bryan Lefebvre, Ler’s friend of two years, who said that he accompanied Ler on two occasions to visit Sim. Lefebvre said he saw Ler treating Sim’s abscess, which he described as “appalling” and “quite large”.
Ler is also embroiled in a HIV data leak scandal that occured earlier this year. The former head of the Ministry of Health (MOH)’s National Public Health Unit had access to personal data belonging to 14,200 HIV-positive patients, which was later leaked by his partner Brochez. The leaked data included the affected individuals’ names, identification numbers, contact details, HIV test results, and medical information.
For the data leak, Ler faces a charge under the Official Secrets Act for failing to take reasonable care of confidential information. The charge has been stood down for the current trial on his drug-related charges.
In November last year, Ler was sentenced to two years’ jail for helping Brochez hide his HIV status from the Ministry of Manpower so that Brochez could get a job in Singapore. Ler is currently serving the sentence, which began on 21 March this year.
Ler’s trial has been adjourned to 15 August, when the prosecution is expected to call additional witnesses.