Two Singaporeans charged over leaking of virus case numbers

Zhao Zheng (top) had 24 charges under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) brought against her. Her friend Tang Lin (above) was charged with 10 counts of wrongful communication under the OSA.
Zhao Zheng (left) had 24 charges under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) brought against her. Her friend Tang Lin (right) was charged with 10 counts of wrongful communication under the OSA.ST PHOTOS: KELVIN CHNG

Two Singaporean women were charged yesterday in relation to the leaking of confidential Covid-19 information.

Zhao Zheng, 36, who was the deputy lead of the Ministry of Health's (MOH) data management unit, had 24 charges under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) brought against her.

The unit was set up by the ministry as part of the nation's response to the pandemic.

Zhao was arrested in April last year for allegedly leaking the confidential information, but was later released on bail.

Of the charges, 22 relate to her illegally sharing the number of new Covid-19 cases each day for 22 days between March 16 and April 16 last year.

Zhao had allegedly shared the daily numbers in a WeChat group which had 49 other members, prior to MOH releasing the numbers officially.

The remaining two charges relate to her sharing information on a Covid-19 patient with her friend Tang Lin, also 36.

With her privileged access, Zhao allegedly accessed an MOH Excel document titled "master", which contained the confidential details of Covid-19 patients.

At about 3pm on March 28 last year, she purportedly shared information on the patient with Tang, even though Tang was not authorised to receive such information.

Tang, whose occupation was not disclosed, was also charged yesterday with 10 counts of wrongful communication under the OSA.

Nine of the charges relate to her allegedly sharing the number of daily cases prior to the figures being officially released by MOH.

She is accused of doing this on nine occasions between March 26 and April 16 last year.

The figures were purportedly shared by Tang in a WhatsApp chat group with five other people.

The remaining charge relates to her allegedly soliciting confidential information on a Covid-19 patient from Zhao on March 28 last year.

In a statement on Tuesday, the police said they received a report from a member of the public on April 16 last year that the daily number of Covid-19 cases in Singapore had been leaked online prior to MOH releasing the figures.

Investigations traced the alleged source of the information to Zhao, who was then arrested.

The police said 64 other people who had received or communicated the confidential information will be issued with stern warnings or written advisories for offences under the OSA.

In response to queries, an MOH spokesman said Zhao has been suspended from her job.

"MOH takes a very serious view of any wrongful access and communication of information by our staff," she said.

"The officer was suspended from work once MOH was informed that the police had started investigations, and access to the ministry's confidential information was also terminated. Following the incident, MOH has reviewed and tightened our information security protocols and processes."

The offence of wrongful communication of information under the OSA carries a fine of up to $2,000 and a jail term of up to two years.

Unauthorised recipients of such confidential information are advised by the police to delete and not further circulate it, as they may otherwise be similarly liable under the OSA.

Zhao was offered bail of $10,000 and Tang, $5,000.

Both women are expected to be back in court for a further mention of their cases on May 5.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2021, with the headline 'Two Singaporeans charged over leaking of virus case numbers'. Subscribe