SINGAPORE: On Tuesday (Feb 12), Health Minister Gan Kim Yong delivered a ministerial statement in Parliament to answer questions on the HIV data leak, which saw 14,200 HIV-positive patients’ details disclosed online by US citizen Mikhy Farrera Brochez.
Following the Ministry of Health (MOH)’s announcement of the incident on Jan 28, there remain questions that were left unanswered such as where was Brochez deported to after serving his prison term in 2018 and why was the Official Secrets Act (OSA) charge against his partner, Singaporean doctor Ler Teck Siang, stood down.
Here is a detailed timeline of what happened, as revealed by Mr Gan in his statement:
FIRST PHASE: 2012 to 2013
Brochez makes first complaint to MOH in 2012 – Mr Gan says the issue then was not about the American’s access to HIV Registry information. He said Brochez was a partner of Ler, who was then the head of the National Public Health Unit and were living together.
In November 2012, Brochez alleged that Ler disclosed information about the former to others. He later claimed the doctor had shared screenshots of the American’s HIV status with others.
MOH tried to engage him “multiple” times but Brochez did not provide any evidence to support his allegation, and was uncooperative, evasive and rejected or postponed meetings with the ministry on several occasions, the minister said.
“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.”
Ler reassigned in 2013 – The doctor was reassigned to another role in May 2013 even as MOH kept up the investigation. His access to the live HIV Registry was terminated after the reassignment.
It was during the investigations that the ministry discovered in December that year Brochez may have submitted fake HIV blood tests to the Ministry of Manpower in order to retain his employment pass. Mr Gan said MOM was informed and a police report made. Ler resigned the following month.
“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,” the minister said.
INVESTIGATIONS: BETWEEN 2014 and 2016
During this time, police and MOH investigated whether Brochez had submitted fake blood tests and whether Ler had abetted this process and provided false information to investigators.
It was a difficult process though as Brochez continued to be uncooperative and initially refused to provide a police statement.
A statement was eventually recorded in May 2014, after the American was stopped trying to leave Singapore. He lied to the police that it was his blood that was tested during a HIV test conducted in November 2013, Mr Gan revealed.
He also refused to go for a fresh blood test for HIV to verify his claim.
PROOF FOUND, CHARGES MADE: 2016
It was in late April of 2016 that Brochez was arrested for repeatedly refusing to comply with MOH’s order to take a blood test.
He then provided the police and government authorities 75 names and particulars from the HIV Registry – making it the first time MOH had evidence Brochez may have access to the confidential data. A police report was made on May 16, 2016.
The police then raided the premises of Ler and Brochez at the same time, seizing materials such as 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. Other information likely used by Ler for his work such as emails, HIV studies and reports were also secured.
Searching through Brochez’s email, it was found that he had sent the same screenshot he had sent to government authorities, as well as a PDF file of another 46 records from the HIV Registry, to his mother.
Mr Gan said the police contacted the mother, who agreed to let them access her email account and delete those records.
At this point, the minister said 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 (them), including in their known online accounts”.
“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,” Mr Gan said.
The two were charged in court in June 2016.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) decided not to charge Brochez under the Official Secrets Act because they assessed he would likely be sentenced to a fine, or at most a few weeks in jail. There had been no wide dissemination of the information at that stage, and he had primarily used the information to complain to Government agencies.
Besides, he was already facing fraud and drug-related charges, which carried far heavier penalties. He was thus issued a stern warning for the OSA offence.
He was subsequently convicted in March 2017 and sentenced to 28 months’ jail.
DEPORTATION, THEN THE LEAK: 2018 and 2019
Brochez was deported from Singapore in April 2018 after he served his sentence.
A month later, he sent a screenshot containing 31 records from the HIV Registry to several government authorities here. They were a sub-set of the 75 he had sent in 206. Another police report was made.
READ: Mikhy Farrera Brochez, American wanted in Singapore for HIV data leak, charged in US for trespassing
Ler, meanwhile, was convicted in September that year for abetting Brochez to commit cheating and provide false information to the police and MOH. He was sentenced to 24 months’ jail, but appealed and his case is to be heard in March this year.
The OSA charge against Ler is currently stood down but Mr Gan explained it is still live.
AGC decided to proceed with the cheating and false information against Ler first as they were more serious and carried stiffer penalties. There is also the trial for Ler’s drug charges still to come, which would also involve stiffer penalties including mandatory caning, he added.
Then came the January 2019 leak, which Mr Gan said showed that Brochez probably still possessed the entire HIV Registry.
MOH subsequently made the public announcement of the incident on Jan 28.
The American is currently under police investigation for various offences, and is believed to be in the US, the minister said.
“The police are engaging their American counterparts and are seeking their assistance in the investigations against Brochez. The police will spare no effort pursuing all avenues to bring Brochez to justice,” Mr Gan said.