SINGAPORE: A doctor at the centre of the HIV data leak from Singapore's registry told the High Court on Monday (Mar 11) he had lied to the police in 2016 when he admitted to cheating offences.
Ler Teck Siang, who was convicted of the offences in 2018, claimed he had lied in his police statement to "retaliate" against the Ministry of Health's (MOH) "discrimination" of his sexual orientation.
The 37-year-old was appealing against his conviction and two-year jail sentence for abetting partner Mikhy Farrera Brochez to cheat the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) regarding Brochez's HIV-positive status, and of giving false information to the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the police.
Representing himself and reading from a folder he held in the dock, Ler told the High Court that he had lied in his statement to the police in retaliation to the perceived discrimination he felt from MOH over his sexual orientation.
He claimed that he had falsely admitted to cheating offences. When questioned by Justice Chua Lee Ming about what Ler thought would have happened in giving this false information, Ler said: “The appellant (Ler) didn’t really have an intention, it was essentially a retaliation for how he perceived … he was treated.”
Asked how this was a retaliation, Ler said he was uncooperative when he was expected to cooperate with police.
When questioned about what was to happen with this lack of cooperation, Ler said he had not thought about it at that point in time.
He also reiterated his “bargaining chip” defence, which he had used during his earlier trial.
According to Ler, the reason for giving falsely incriminating statements was because he thought that he was "expected" to give a “bargaining chip” to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and MOH.
Ler claimed that when he was detained on May 23, 2016, it was “clearly for the primary purpose of extracting [a] confession to cheating”, even though “on the surface he was led to understand that he was supposed to be assisting into investigations looking into the data breach”.
“Even before the 2013 blood test [where Ler] allegedly used his own blood instead of Brochez’s blood, even before that - MOH was already convinced that Brochez was HIV-positive as can be shown by MOH informing MOM that Brochez had made a false declaration in his health declaration,” said Ler.
“Are you saying he’s not HIV-positive?” asked the judge.
“I’m saying at that point he’s not. But MOH was already convinced that he (was),” answered Ler.
The judge said this was not relevant.
“What’s relevant is he was required to do another blood test. Did you use your blood in place of his?” asked Justice Chua.
Ler claimed he did not use his blood for Brochez's test. He went on to say that the judgment of the district judge, who said the 'bargaining chip' defence was “contrived, far-fetched and simply incredible”, has been proven wrong by recent events, such as Brochez’s release of the leaked data.
“So you are saying that you lied when you admitted to the offence in your statement?” asked the judge.
“That is right,” answered Ler.
The judge adjourned the hearing until Monday afternoon.
Ler made his first public appearance since news broke in January that his alleged mishandling of information could have led to Brochez leaking the data including phone numbers and medical records of HIV sufferers.
Ler was head of MOH's National Public Health Unit from March 2012 to May 2013, with access to information in the HIV Registry until he resigned in January 2014.
Brochez, 34, had used Ler’s blood sample to pass blood tests so that he could work in Singapore, the health ministry said in a press briefing in January.
After the hearing resumed in the afternoon, the prosecution rebutted Ler's arguments, calling his explanations "inconsistent" and saying that his bargaining chip defence "beggars belief".
"Dr Ler alleges that MOH had engaged in persistent persecution against him. This led him to fabricate the confessions in (his statements). This is illogical," said Senior Counsel Kwek Mean Luck.
"The idea that the police wanted Ler to give them a 'bargaining chip' but did not even communicate this to him beggars belief.
"If Ler truly believed that he was supposed to provide a bargaining chip, he could have confessed to any criminal offence in vague and general terms.
"He did not do this. Instead, he gave a very comprehensive account, replete with details which closely match the documentary evidence."
Ler has also claimed trial to drug charges, for which he will return to court in May. A separate charge under the Official Secrets Act of failing to take reasonable care of confidential information has been stood down, or set aside for the time being.
READ: Mikhy Brochez disclosed list of HIV-positive people in new leak, prison service makes police report
Brochez was deported to the United States in April 2018, after serving his sentence of 28 months' jail for lying to the MOM about his HIV status, along with other fraud and drug offences.
He was last ordered by a US court on Mar 4 to "immediately" surrender the leaked data to Singapore's authorities and to destroy all leaks.
In an affidavit filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Feb 22, Brochez admitted that he had come “into possession of the database in Singapore” and taken it to the US.
He told the FBI that he would leak more names and information if the Singapore Government did not release Ler.