LEXINGTON, Kentucky: The US citizen charged with leaking 14,200 names from Singapore’s HIV registry and threatening further disclosures faced his first day of trial on Monday (Jun 3) in Kentucky, where the presiding judge refused his request to dismiss the case.
Mikhy Farrera Brochez, 34, sat quietly in a button-down shirt in a Lexington courtroom before US District Judge Danny Reeves, as prosecutors called more than a half-dozen witnesses, including FBI agents, a Ministry of Health director, and his own mother, to build their case.
Brochez has been jailed since he was found hiding in a Kentucky barn earlier this year and charged with transmitting threats for purposes of extortion and illegally transferring the identification of another person, US crimes that could carry several years in prison.
“This defendant ... chose the wrong way" to obtain what he was seeking, assistant US attorney Dmitry Slavin told the jury on Monday.
In hours of testimony, FBI agents and others said Brochez smuggled the database out of the country partly by sending it to his mother. He also kept it on seven devices including phones, a laptop and external hard drives, and uploaded it online to a Google drive.
From the US, where he lived after being deported last year, Brochez emailed links to media and government officials, witnesses said.
He threatened to disclose the information more widely if Singapore opened an investigation into his case, did not close the registry and kept his partner, Singaporean doctor Ler Teck Siang, in prison.
Ler, who had access to the HIV registry as part of his work as the former head of Singapore's National Public Health Unit, was sentenced to two years' jail in November last year.
Brochez, who has pleaded not guilty, is expected to testify on Tuesday before the case goes to the jury for deliberation. Judge Reeves on Monday rejected Brochez's attorney's motion to dismiss the case for insufficient evidence.
Dr Vernon Lee, director of communicable diseases at Singapore's Ministry of Health, testified on Monday that officials knew Brochez had emailed screenshots of the registry as early as 2016, but did not believe he had a full copy of it until January 2019.
That’s when the ministry announced that Brochez had leaked the names, addresses and medical information of 5,400 Singaporeans and 8,800 foreigners on the registry, which Dr Lee said was kept solely for public health purposes.
Dr Lee said that disclosure had fostered distrust among the HIV-positive community and undercut public health efforts.
It also sent shock through the community, leaving many on the list with deep “fear and anxiety” amid ongoing stigma, he said.
Many feared possible blackmail, discrimination in jobs and had even left some suicidal, he said. "This is something that is very personal and private," he said.
Brochez, who had worked in Singapore as a lecturer, was initially jailed in Singapore in 2017 on charges including falsifying tests related to his HIV-positive status and gaining an employment pass.
Singapore in 2015 lifted its ban to allow HIV-positive people to enter the country, but most HIV-positive foreigners are not allowed to work in Singapore.
Brochez, who has alleged he was raped and tortured in prison, could argue on Tuesday that he was trying to bring attention to the registry, which some have argued adds to the stigma around HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Brochez’s attorney, Adele Brown, noted that it remains a crime to commit homosexual acts in Singapore, though the law is rarely enforced. Because the registry contained information on sexual preferences, she asked, “How do you know (the registry) couldn’t be used for a criminal prosecution?” Dr Lee said it would not be used in such a way.
In the most dramatic moment of the day, Brochez’s mother, retired Kentucky school teacher Teresa King, testified briefly for the prosecution. She did not look at her son.
Authorities said she shared his location at a barn in a remote Jackson County, Kentucky, where he appeared to be living out of his car when he was taken into custody in the spring.
Ms King said she uploaded documents in 2016 at the request of her son, who said it "meant life or death", but he did not say what it was and told her not to look at it. He had asked her to send it back to him in 2018, she said.
After he berated and demeaned her, she demanded that he stop calling and emailing her.
Authorities have previously said they believe that Brochez also forged some degrees including a doctorate from the University of Paris. In 2010, he had told a newspaper that his mother was a renowned professor of child and adolescent psychology in the UK.
On Monday, Judge Reeves dismissed the jury after Brown said Brochez needed anti-anxiety medication to testify and was not offered it. The trial is set to reconvene on Tuesday.