Doctor at centre of HIV data leak struck off medical register after helping partner lie about positive status
SINGAPORE: A doctor at the centre of Singapore's HIV data leak has been struck off the medical register, the Singapore Medical Council’s disciplinary tribunal said in its grounds of decision on Tuesday (Sep 1).
Ler Teck Siang, who was the former head of the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) National Public Health Unit, had helped his romantic partner Mikhy Farrera-Brochez to lie to authorities about Brochez’s HIV-positive status to gain an employment pass.
Ler was sentenced to a two-year jail term for abetting Brochez to cheat the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and for giving false information to MOH and the police. He was also sentenced to prison last year for drug offences.
USED OWN BLOOD FOR PARTNER'S HIV TEST
Ler was in a relationship with Brochez, who was then working in Singapore on an employment pass. After Brochez was diagnosed to be HIV-positive in March 2008, Ler helped him to “conceal” the positive status from authorities.
This included submitting his blood instead of Brochez’s for testing, so that his partner could continue to work in Singapore. The blood was drawn at Ler's clinic.
Ler lied to MOH that Brochez did not attend his clinic on Nov 22, 2013, and to police that it was Brochez’s blood that was tested.
As head of MOH's National Public Health Unit, Ler also had the authority to access information in the HIV registry as required for his work, said MOH in January last year.
Ler, who resigned in January 2014, is believed to have mishandled the information and is suspected of not having complied with the policies and guidelines on the handling of such confidential information.
In May 2016, MOH lodged a police report after receiving information that Brochez was in possession of confidential information that appeared to be from the HIV registry.
Police searched the couple's properties and relevant material was seized.
Brochez was jailed in 2016 for lying about his HIV status to gain an employment pass, along with other fraud and drug offences.
In May 2018, after Brochez was deported from Singapore, MOH received information that he still had part of the records. In January last year, MOH was notified by the police that Brochez may still have more information from the HIV registry, and had leaked it online.
Brochez was eventually sentenced in September last year in the US for leaking the data.
In October last year, Ler was also convicted of intentionally aiding a former tutor and consultant to consume methamphetamine. The court heard that the tutor first got to know of Dr Ler’s “slamming" services – slang for the intravenous injection of drugs – through a sex buddy who showed him Dr Ler’s profile on a dating app in 2017.
STRUCK OFF BY DISCIPLINARY TRIBUNAL
The prosecution argued that the nature of Ler’s offences included fraud and dishonesty and that it “necessarily implied a deficit in character”.
Ler had demonstrated “reprehensible conduct” at the criminal trial and was sentenced to two years imprisonment.
“These serve to strengthen the implication that (Ler) possesses a defect in character making (him) unfit for his profession,” said the prosecution, according to the tribunal’s grounds of decision.
Ler argued that he had committed the dishonest acts “out of love, passion and compassion” for Brochez, and not out of “greed and avarice”. He claimed the acts did not imply a “defect in character”, and asked not to be struck off.
READ: Mikhy Farrera Brochez, American wanted in Singapore for HIV data leak, charged in US for trespassing
He added that there was no “personal, financial or material gain” in committing the offences, but he said it was a choice “between being dishonest and being with the person that I was in love with at that time”.
But the tribunal said Ler’s arguments against his guilt were “wholly misconceived” and rejected them.
The offences Ler committed were not a “simple dishonest act” but criminal convictions involving fraud and dishonesty.
“In fact, we found (Ler’s) attempts to trivialise his repeated deceptions of government agencies, which are responsible for the safeguarding of public interests, as being akin to spousal cheating deeply disturbing and worrying,” the tribunal wrote.
They said that Ler’s claim that he made no “personal, financial or material gain” from his offences were “incorrect”, adding that Ler committed the offences so he could continue staying with Brochez.
This was entirely a personal gain by Ler, achieved by “abusing his position as a medical practitioner and sacrificing his professional responsibilities”, the tiribunal added.
He “betrayed” his role as a medical practitioner to safeguard public health and safety by assisting his partner, and had engaged in the deception of authorities four times.
These offences took place over the course of several years, and Ler’s “carefully planned, deliberate and flagrant deception” of authorities shows a “defect in character rendering him unfit for his profession”, the tribunal added.
“In addition, this tribunal notes that (Ler’s) conduct at the present disciplinary proceedings in attempting to make light of his offences has only served to further illustrate his recalcitrant and unremorseful attitude in failing to appreciate the gravity of his criminal conduct, and thus the severity of the defect in character on the part of the respondent, indicating that a severe sentence is justly warranted,” said the grounds.
Besides being struck off, Ler will have to pay costs incurred during the tribunal hearings.