SINGAPORE – The Singaporean doctor whose partner Mikhy Farrera-Brochez is at the centre of the HIV Registry leak, lost his appeal on Monday (March 11) against his conviction and two-year jail sentence for helping the American dupe the authorities into issuing him a pass to work here.
Justice Chua Lee Ming, in dismissing Ler Teck Siang’s appeal, said: “Your arguments are creative but baseless and, in part, illogical.”
Justice Chua said he did not agree that the sentence was “manifestly excessive”. The judge added that there was an aggravating factor in Ler’s case, as he was an instigator in the plot to cheat the public agencies.
Ler, 37, who asked for time to make arrangements for his pets, was ordered to start his sentence on March 21.
Bail remained at $40,000, along with electronic tagging.
The police also asked for Ler to be under curfew from 10pm to 6am, and confined to his registered address.
Representing himself in court, Ler sought to distance himself from two statements he had given to the police, in which he had confessed to submitting his own blood in place of that of his HIV-positive partner Farrera-Brochez.
In 2008, Farrera-Brochez took an HIV test at a Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association (Sata) clinic using a fake Bahamian passport. He tested positive.
Ler submitted a sample of his blood in place of Farrera-Brochez in March 2008, so that the American could pass medical tests to work in Singapore.
He used the same ruse again in November 2013, after the Ministry of Health (MOH) flagged the American’s HIV status to the Ministry of Manpower.
Ler initially lied to investigators to cover this up but later confessed to the police that he had substituted his blood for Farrera-Brochez’s.
In court on Monday, Ler said he had fabricated these confessions, and in particular, said the second statement was “75 per cent true, 25 per cent false”.
Ler maintained that no cheating was committed and that the American was not HIV-positive at the time.
He claimed he had lied in the statements to retaliate against perceived sexual discrimination by the Ministry of Health.
Asked by Justice Chua to explain, Ler, referring to himself in the third person, said: “The retaliation was that he was expected to be co-operative, therefore he was not co-operative.”
He also argued that he had lied because he thought that he was expected to give a “bargaining chip” to investigators to stop Farrera-Brochez from disseminating MOH data.
He insisted that Farrera-Brochez “most likely got someone else” to go to Sata with the fake passport to do the test “because of his fear of needles, and he had no regards for rules and regulations and laws”.
“There is ample evidence to show that he is a fraudster and has been defrauding not just local authorities but appellant himself since day one.”
However, Justice Chua rejected his arguments, finding that Farrera-Brochez did go to Sata and that Ler had given his statements voluntarily and his admissions were “clear beyond doubt”.
The judge agreed with the prosecution’s arguments, made by Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck, that Ler played the role of instigator, and was not just an accessory.
Ler was convicted and sentenced last September for abetment of cheating and giving a false statement to a public servant.
In January, Farrera-Brochez, 34, was identified by MOH as the person responsible for leaking the details of 14,200 people with HIV, and another 2,400 of their contacts. He was ordered by a US court last week to immediately hand over all copies he had of any confidential data from the Singapore Government.
Farrera-Brochez was deported in April last year after serving his jail term for offences including cheating, lying to a public servant, possessing drugs and using forged educational certificates.
In relation to the HIV registry leak, Ler, who was head of the National Public Health Unit between March 2012 and May 2013, faces a charge under the Official Secrets Act.
Court documents for the OSA charge state that Ler, who had access to the registry containing the names of people who tested positive for HIV prior to February 2012, saved the information on a thumb drive.
He is accused of failing to take reasonable care to retain possession of the information.
In addition, Ler is scheduled to go on trial in May for drug charges, for administering methamphetamine at a hotel, for possession of a syringe intended to be used to administer a controlled drug, and for failing to provide his urine sample to the Central Narcotics Bureau.
Even though Ler remains a doctor for now, his certificate to practise medicine here expired at the end of last year and has not been renewed.
He does not have access to the confidential information of patients in the National Electronic Health Records, which includes all public-sector patients.
Usually, the Singapore Medical Council does not take action against a doctor until legal appeals have concluded.