SINGAPORE: A High Court judge on Monday (Mar 11) dismissed an appeal from a doctor at the heart of the data leak of 14,200 HIV-positive people in Singapore.
Ler Teck Siang had appealed against his conviction and two-year jail sentence for abetting his partner Mikhy Farrera Brochez to cheat the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) about Brochez's HIV-positive status, and for giving false information to the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the police.
The 37-year-old was found guilty last year of helping Brochez deceive the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) by submitting two HIV blood tests using Ler’s blood in Brochez's name in 2008 and 2013.
Justice Chua Lee Ming on Monday upheld the convictions and sentence of the doctor, saying that Ler’s arguments were “creative but baseless, and in part, illogical”.
The doctor will start his two-year prison sentence on March 21, the judge ordered.
READ: Doctor at heart of HIV data leak claims he lied to police to 'retaliate' against MOH 'discrimination'
"BROCHEZ IS A FRAUDSTER"
Ler, who was representing himself, had argued that he lied to police in 2016 when he admitted to the cheating offences. He said he had done so in “retaliation” against “perceived discrimination” by MOH over his sexual orientation.
It was proven in the trial that Brochez had gone to the Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association's (SATA) Chinatown clinic in early March 2008, where a blood test proved that he was HIV-positive.
However, another blood test Brochez submitted with Ler's blood 10 days later found that his blood tested negative for HIV.
Ler argued that Brochez had asked someone else to pose as Brochez when going to the SATA clinic in order to get an employment pass. However, he did not expect that the unknown person was HIV-positive.
Asked by the judge why Brochez would do that, Ler answered: “Because of his fear of needles and he just had no regard for rules and regulations and laws.
“There is ample evidence to show he is a fraudster, and not just defrauding local authorities, but the appellant himself (Ler) since day one.”
A FANCIFUL FAIRYTALE
The prosecution, led by Senior Counsel Kwek Mean Luck, said it was "absolutely clear" that it was Brochez who tested HIV-positive at the clinic, as the fake Bahamian passport used to register for the test was seized from Brochez's home, and had Brochez's picture.
The doctor conducting the test testified that it was his practice to check the face of the patient against identification, in this case, the fake passport.
The prosecution had argued that Ler had higher culpability than Brochez, as he instigated the offences, coming up with the idea of how to deceive MOM, and was "absolutely instrumental to the success of the plan".
"Dr Ler wasted significant resources in claiming trial ... and spinning a fanciful fairytale," said the prosecutor, pointing out that the trial took 15 days in a district court.
"Numerous public agencies were deceived. MOM was deceived two times. MOH and also the police were deceived by the false information offences.
“There were three distinct public agencies that were deceived, and it is well established that offences involving the cheating of a government department or agency should attract a sentence of general deterrence, even where no financial loss is caused to the Government."
SENTENCE DEFERRED FOR DISPOSITION OF LER'S PETS
The judge agreed with the prosecution’s arguments that the district judge who sentenced Ler to two years’ jail had not erred.
“In my view, [the] evidence against you is convincing,” said Justice Chua.
“First, it’s not clear why Brochez went to SATA instead of having his test done anonymously, but I agree that what’s important is that he did go to SATA using a fake passport.”
As for Ler’s arguments that he had lied in his police statement and falsely admitted to cheating the authorities in relation to Brochez’s HIV status, the judge said: “You have given your statements voluntarily. There is clear corroborative evidence from … Brochez.”
Brochez had admitted during his trial to charges of cheating and giving false information.
The prosecution quoted Brochez, who had said: "Yes, I am guilty of the charges but I think the MOH misused their powers in order to cover up the fact that they had a data leak."
Justice Chua said: "I agree with the District Judge that you (Ler) played an active role as an instigator and you were not just an accessory.”
Ler made an application to defer sentence for two weeks for the “disposition of his pets”, later clarifying that he had to make arrangements for someone to care for his unspecified pets.
His mother, who is his bailor, asked for an additional one-day deferment as Mar 20 was his elder brother’s birthday.
The judge granted a one-and-a-half week's deferment and maintained bail at S$40,000. The prosecution made no objection as Ler has to wear an electronic tag. He will start his prison sentence on Mar 21.
Ler's alleged mishandling of information he had access to as head of MOH's National Public Health Unit between March 2012 and May 2013 is believed to have led to Brochez possessing data from Singapore's HIV registry.
Brochez has since leaked the data and threatened to release more details if the Singapore Government did not release Ler.