US prosecutor charges Brochez with threatening to extort Singapore government

Brochez speaks with media before attending court on Feb 18, 2019, in Winchester, Kentucky. ST PHOTO: ARDEN BARNES FOR THE STRAITS TIIMES

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - Mikhy Farrera Brochez, the American at the centre of Singapore's HIV registry leak, was charged by United States prosecutors on Wednesday (Feb 27) with threatening to extort the Singapore government.

The fresh charges come on top of existing charges that Brochez, 34, possessed and unlawfully transferred stolen identification documents.

Brochez appeared in a court for a scheduled hearing on Wednesday, during which US Magistrate Judge Matthew A. Stinnett ruled to refer his cases to a grand jury.

The grand jury will review evidence and decide whether or not to indict him. If they do, he will be put on trial.

In an affidavit filed on Wednesday, FBI special agent Chelsea Holliday, who handled the case, said there was probable cause to believe that Brochez transmitted a communication containing a threat to injure the reputation of officials and agents of the Singapore government.

If found guilty of this offence, Brochez can be jailed for up to two years, fined up to US$250,000 (S$340,000), or both.

In a related alleged offence, he also knowingly and unlawfully possessed and transferred the means of identification of other people in violation of the US Code, said Ms Holliday, who was present at Wednesday's court hearing but was not called to testify.

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US prosecutor Dmitriy Slavin told the court that this second violation could carry a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in jail, a fine of up to US$250,000, or both, if Brochez obtained anything of value worth US$1,000 or more.

In her affidavit, Ms Holliday said that in the course of her investigations, she had reviewed an e-mail Brochez sent to several Singapore officials and government agencies on Jan 22.

The e-mail contained several allegations Brochez had previously made and a demand to the Singapore government to investigate the crimes allegedly committed against him while he lived in Singapore.

It also contained several links to documents stored on Google Drive, which were links to the medical base showing HIV-positive individuals in Singapore, she said.

Recounting a phone call with Brochez on Feb 19, Ms Holliday said: "He explained to me that if I could convince the Government of Singapore to release his husband, Siang, he would turn over the database. But if the Singaporean Government did not release Siang, he would release the database to the public."

Brochez's partner Ler Teck Siang has been charged in Singapore under the Official Secrets Act.

In an interview after he was arrested on Feb 21, Brochez also told Ms Holliday and her colleague that he sent the database because he wanted to "clear his name and to hopefully get his husband off these false charges".

Brochez threatened to injure the reputation of the Government of Singapore, its agencies, and its officials, by publishing the medical databases, said Ms Holliday.

She added that his e-mails and Facebook posts were made "with the intent to extort from them things of value".

"Namely, Brochez intended to obtain an investigation of crimes allegedly committed against him in Singapore, the end of the HIV registry, and the release of Siang from imprisonment."

Dressed in a yellow prison jumpsuit, Brochez at times spoke in Spanish to court officials. He was asked as a matter of procedure whether he had any mental health issues preventing him from understanding the court processes.

Brochez said that he understood the processes of the court hearing, but suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as the result of "torture by officials of the Singapore government".

Brochez's lawyer Jay Oakley, who was appointed for him by the court, told reporters after the hearing that his client was unlikely to be extradited to Singapore, though the topic had not come up.

"He's an American citizen, I would say that the odds are likely not. But I haven't crossed that bridge or had any discussions with the government or my client about that," said Mr Oakley.

Said a Justice Department spokesman in response to queries from The Straits Times: "As a matter of policy, the Justice Department does not publicly comment on correspondence with foreign governments on extradition matters, including the very existence of such a request."

Asked how Brochez was feeling, Mr Oakley replied: "He's facing federal criminal prosecution in the US so clearly he's not real thrilled about it. We're going to prepare our defence and handle the charges as they need to be handled.

"The federal grand jury will meet over the next couple of weeks, maybe next month, and decide whether or not there's probable cause to return an indictment against him," said the lawyer.

"We don't have another appearance at the court right now. It's all a matter as to whether or not an indictment is returned. If the grand jury finds cause to believe a felony was committed, an indictment will be returned, and we'll come back for an initial appearance and arraignment," he added.

Brochez remains in remand, and has been ordered by the court not to disclose any confidential information he obtained from Singapore

He has a court hearing on March 4 for a separate charge of trespassing on his mother's property last year.

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