SINGAPORE - Suspicions that contents of the HIV Registry had been leaked had reached the authorities from as early as 2012, when American fraudster Mikhy Farrera Brochez blew the whistle on his Singaporean doctor-boyfriend Ler Teck Siang to the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Brochez complained to an MOH director that Ler had shared screenshots of the HIV Registry - which the doctor had access to as the head of the National Public Health Unit (NPHU) - and also divulged his HIV-positive status to another individual.
The complaint sparked a sequence of events, which led to the MOH launching a probe into Ler's actions while the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) investigated if Brochez was really HIV-free, as stated in his Employment Pass applications.
These details emerged in evidence and testimonies in court papers involving the two relating to the charges of cheating and lying to public servants, among other charges.
Ler and Brochez are now at the centre of another high-profile data breach in the healthcare sector that came to light on Monday (Jan 28).
The MOH revealed that more than 14,200 people with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) had their confidential information, including their contact details and medical information, stolen and leaked online by Brochez.
The leaked records include those of 5,400 Singaporeans diagnosed with HIV up to January 2013, and 8,800 foreigners diagnosed up to December 2011.
Brochez, 34, was sentenced in March 2017 to 28 months' jail, and was deported in April last year after completing his sentence.
He had pleaded guilty to six charges, with 17 taken into consideration, with the offences ranging from cheating, lying to a public servant, possessing drugs and using forged educational certificates
Ler, 36, who claimed trial and was unrepresented, was convicted last September on two charges each for abetment of cheating and for giving a false statement to a public servant.
He was sentenced last September to two years' jail and is appealing against both conviction and sentence. The prosecution has dropped its appeal against his sentence.
According to Ler's police statement that was submitted as evidence in his trial, he said he and Brochez had problems in their relationship in early 2009.
The two got to know each other through a gay dating website and first met in person in Hong Kong in 2007. By January the following year, Brochez had moved to Singapore and was living with Ler in his Craig Road apartment.
Ler said the American claimed that the Singaporean had shared a screenshot of the HIV Registry with another individual, and also told the same person that Brochez was HIV-positive.
In the statement, Ler said that sometime towards the end of 2012, he was asked by Dr Jeffrey Cutter - then director of the Communicable Diseases Division from MOH - about Brochez's allegations against him.
Specifically, Dr Cutter asked Ler if he had taken screenshots from the HIV Registry.
"Following this, the accused (Ler) was informed of an official investigation by MOH in respect of the allegations made by Mikhy against him," according to the court papers.
Dr Cutter was later called by Ler as a witness during the trial.
Dr Cutter, who met Ler in 2010 when the latter was a medical officer at the Communicable Diseases Division, testified that he had received a complaint in 2013 against Ler from Brochez.
Dr Cutter said he then questioned Ler about the matter and subsequently escalated it to the enforcement branch of the MOH to investigate any potential wrongdoing.
Based on the evidence, the trial judge said it showed that in August or September 2012, Brochez told Dr Cutter that Ler had breached medical confidentiality by divulging his HIV status to another individual.
Following further complaints from Brochez in around August or September 2013, Dr Cutter decided or received instructions to launch an official investigation.
In September 2013, Ler was contacted by an officer from the MOH's Surveillance and Enforcement Branch (SEB).
Around Oct 4, the MOM received information from the MOH that Brochez was HIV-positive and that he might have made a false declaration in his application in 2011 for a Personalised Employment Pass (PEP), which allowed him to change employers without getting a fresh Employment Pass.
The MOM told Brochez about this and instructed him on Oct 8 to cancel his PEP by Nov 8, failing which the ministry would cancel it.
But Brochez replied to say that he would supply "proof of being free of HIV" to the MOM.
Ler, who was working as a locum at a clinic at Great World City, then used his own blood for the test on Nov 22, 2013, and passed it off as Brochez's.
This was the same ruse that the two had used in 2008, when Brochez first applied for an EP, which he was issued with on March 24, 2008. An earlier test in Singapore, which he had taken using a fake Bahamian passport, had revealed that Brochez was HIV-positive.
On Nov 29, 2013, Brochez sent a copy of the falsified result to the MOM, which seemed to give him the all-clear and led the ministry to agree to retaining his PEP.
But the MOH investigator was surprised to find out that Ler had conducted the test on Brochez when he visited the clinic as part of his investigations into Ler.
On Dec 10, 2013, Ler was questioned by the same SEB officer at the Kranji Camp, where the doctor was on in-camp training duty.
In a statement recorded that day, Ler lied to the SEB officer that the blood was not taken from "Mikhy", who had accused him of leaking his HIV-positive status, but from another person. Ler was later convicted on this charge of lying to a public servant.
The SEB officer informed his superiors. A day later, a police report was lodged over a possible cheating offence over the Nov 22, 2013 blood test.
On Jan 23, 2014, Ler was questioned by the police, where he admitted to lying to the SEB officer on Dec 10, 2013. But Ler lied again that it was Brochez's blood - not his own - that was tested during the Nov 22 blood test.
On May 2, 2014, Brochez gave a statement to the police at the Central Police Station, where he lied that it was his blood that was tested during the HIV blood test. His false statement was intended to cause the police to cease investigations.
The MOH said Ler resigned in January 2014.
There are no details of further enforcement actions by the authorities until May 2016 when the MOH received information that Brochez was in possession of confidential information that appeared to be from the HIV Registry.
- Additional reporting by Fabian Koh and Rei Kurohi