While he first informed the authorities in 2012 that his partner had disclosed information about his HIV status to others and shared screenshots of this, Mikhy Farrera Brochez, the American at the centre of the leak of Singapore’s HIV Registry, was uncooperative and did not provide any evidence.
The investigation hence did not make much headway, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 12).
Mr Gan was responding to questions from MPs about whether the Ministry of Health (MOH) had known about Brochez’s possible access to the HIV Registry information as early as 2012.
In a ministerial statement setting out the chronology of events, Mr Gan said the issue in 2012 was not about Brochez’s access to the registry.
The American was then a partner of Ler Teck Siang, a doctor who headed the National Public Health Unit, and they had lived together.
In November 2012, Brochez alleged that Ler had disclosed information about Brochez to others. “He later also claimed that Ler had shared screenshots of his HIV status with others,” said Mr Gan.
“Despite multiple attempts by MOH to engage him, Brochez did not provide any evidence to support his allegation. He was uncooperative and evasive, and rejected or postponed meetings with MOH on several occasions,” said Mr Gan.
“At one point, he even informed MOH officers that he was leaving Singapore and did not want to continue with the investigation into his allegation. Due to his uncooperative attitude, the investigation could not make much headway.”
Nevertheless, the ministry reassigned Ler to another role in May 2013, and kept up the investigation. The doctor’s access to the live HIV Registry was terminated after his reassignment, he said.
In the course of its investigation, MOH discovered in December 2013 that Brochez may have submitted fake HIV blood tests to the Ministry of Manpower in order to retain his employment pass. MOH informed MOM and also made a police report. Ler resigned the following month.
Said Mr Gan: “MOH’s investigations in 2012 and 2013 were on Brochez’s allegation that Ler had revealed Brochez’s HIV status to others. At no point in 2012 or 2013 did MOH have basis to suspect that Brochez had access to, or was in possession of, the data in the HIV Registry.”
Between 2014 and 2016, the police and MOH investigated whether Brochez had indeed faked his blood tests, and whether Ler had abetted him and provided false information to investigators.
Mr Gan said the investigations were “difficult” as Brochez refused to provide a statement, until May 2014, when he was stopped while trying to leave Singapore. He lied that it was his blood that was used in a HIV test in November 2013.
MOH ordered him to undergo a fresh blood test for HIV to verify the claim, but Brochez refused. In late April 2016, he was arrested for refusing to comply with the orders to take a blood test.
He then provided the police and government authorities 75 names and particulars from the HIV Registry. Following this, MOH made a police report on May 16, 2016.
“This was the first time MOH had evidence that Brochez may have access to confidential HIV related data,” said Mr Gan.
The police raided Ler’s and Brochez’s premises simultaneously, and “seized and secured all relevant materials”.
“These included their computers and electronic storage devices containing files with confidential information from the HIV Registry, files related to hospital services and to other infectious diseases, as well as other information likely used by Ler for his work such as e-mails, HIV studies and reports,” said Mr Gan.
The police searched through Brochez’s e-mail account and found that he had sent the same screenshot that he had sent to government authorities, as well as a PDF file of a further 46 records from the HIV Registry, to his mother.
The police contacted Brochez’s mother, who agreed to let the police access her e-mail account and delete those records.
Said Mr Gan: “At this point, the police had seized everything they found in Ler’s and Brochez’s possession, and had done their best to ensure that no further confidential information remained with Ler and Brochez, including in their known online accounts.”
He said: “It was always recognised that there was a risk that Brochez could have hidden away some more information. Unfortunately, as recent events showed, Brochez did manage to retain at least some data which he has recently disclosed, and we cannot rule out the possibility that he has more.”
Ler and Brochez were both charged in court in June 2016. Ler was charged both under the Penal Code and Official Secrets Act. Brochez was charged for offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act, Penal Code and Infectious Diseases Act (IDA).
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.