Singapore

Tangled love affair that led to HIV status leak

Singaporean doctor and his American lover, who leaked HIV records, were married in NYC in 2014

It was a love story that progressed through a series of lies to the authorities.

When the lies were uncovered, and they were separated, one of them decided to make others pay for it - by revealing the identities and details of 14,200 people who had the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), like him.

It was confidential data from the Ministry of Health (MOH), which had allegedly been downloaded by his partner who worked there.

It is only now, months after he was deported from Singapore and separated from his partner Ler Teck Siang, a doctor, that Mikhy Farrera Brochez has unleashed the data that Ler is accused of mishandling under the Official Secrets Act (OSA).

Both were in their early 20s when they fell in love after meeting online in 2007.

Brochez, who was around 21 then, decided to leave the US and join Ler, then about 24, in Singapore.

He arrived in January 2008 and moved into Ler's home.

In March, using a fake Bahamian passport with the name Malatesta da Farrera-Brochez, the American took an HIV test at a Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association (Sata) clinic. He tested positive.

The couple knew Singapore would not grant him an employment pass if that surfaced.

So Brochez needed a clean blood test to get an employment pass, and that started a chain of deception.

At that time, Ler was working as a locum at My Family Clinic in Commonwealth Drive. On March 13, 2008, before leaving for work, he drew blood from his left arm and stored it in a test tube, which he took to the clinic.

Brochez went to the clinic the same evening for a blood test required by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for his application to work here. Ler took the tube of his blood and labelled it with Brochez's details.

The blood test came up clean and Brochez got his employment pass later that month.

Using faked certificates, he landed a job at Temasek Polytechnic, teaching students early childhood studies and psychology.

Meanwhile, Ler joined the MOH and was head of its National Public Health Unit from March 2012 till May 2013.

That gave him access to details of everyone who had tested positive in Singapore for HIV since 1985.

Ler downloaded the confidential information onto a thumb drive and it somehow ended up in Brochez's hands.

Ironically, at one point when they had relationship problems, Brochez complained to MOH that Ler was taking screenshots of the HIV Registry.

An investigation was launched and Ler was transferred to the TB control unit.

Meanwhile, on Oct 3, 2013, having confirmed the HIV-positive test done at a Sata clinic in March 2008 belonged to Brochez, MOH informed the MOM he had faked his blood test.

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A few days later, MOM confronted Brochez. He denied the charge and the whole rigmarole of faking the blood test was repeated in November when he went to Twin City Medical Centre at Great World City, where Ler was working as a locum.

Again, it was Ler's blood that was tested. Again the test came out clean.

But suspicions had been aroused and a police report was lodged against Brochez on Dec 11, 2013, for cheating over the second blood test.

The following month, in January 2014, Ler resigned from his position at the MOH, though it is not known why.

Shortly after this, the two men went to the US where they got married in New York City on April 24, 2014.

They returned to Singapore and in May that year, Brochez lied to a police inspector that it was his own blood that had been tested.

Two years later, another tip-off was to expose his web of lies.

In May 2016, the MOH was told that Brochez possessed confidential information that had come from the HIV Registry. It lodged a police report.

On May 24, 2016, both men were arrested as their old lies about the faked blood tests came back to haunt them.

At around 10pm, the police searched the men's home at Lorong N Telok Kurau and found drugs and the "stolen information" from the HIV Register, which was "seized and secured". The police also found Brochez's fake bachelor's degree, master's degree and doctorate.

On March 28, 2017, Brochez was sentenced to 28 months in jail.

Since he had already spent time in custody before that, he was released from prison in April last year.

He was then deported.

After he left Singapore, the MOH got yet another tip-off in May last year that Brochez still had the information stolen from the HIV Register.

The ministry lodged another police report and tried to contact and tell affected people of this breach.

Then, on Jan 22, the police told the ministry that Brochez may have made the confidential information public.

In a couple of days, the MOH was able to ascertain that the data was from the HIV Registry.

Details of thousands of people with HIV had been put online, and Brochez could make the information public again - even though the current links have been blocked.

Ler, meanwhile, had been sentenced to 24 months' jail in September last year for abetting Brochez's cheating offence.

He has appealed against the sentence and also faces another charge of mishandling confidential information under the OSA.

While he remains a doctor for now, his certificate to practise medicine here expired at the end of last year and has not been renewed.

COURT & CRIME