Farrera-Brochez had mum download files he kept in Singapore

American Mikhy Farrera-Brochez, who is at the centre of the Singapore HIV database leak, being escorted out of the Clark County district courthouse in Winchester, Kentucky, in February. He faces three charges in the United States related to stolen id
American Mikhy Farrera-Brochez, who is at the centre of the Singapore HIV database leak, being escorted out of the Clark County district courthouse in Winchester, Kentucky, in February. He faces three charges in the United States related to stolen identification documents from Singapore.PHOTO: ARDEN BARNES FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

They could have included HIV Registry data; seven witnesses testify in his trial in the US

Mikhy Farrera-Brochez, the American at the centre of the Singapore HIV database leak, first asked his mother to download files, which could have included data from the HIV Registry, from a server he owned in Singapore back in 2016, three years before the leak became known to the public.

Ms Teresa King, who testified on Monday on the first day of her son's trial before a Kentucky jury, said she did not look at the downloaded files because he told her not to.

"He said it meant his life or death," said the retired educator who lives in Kentucky.

Her testimony shed some light on how Farrera-Brochez could have got the stolen database out of Singapore to Kentucky, where he sent e-mails three years later to Singapore officials threatening to release the database if they did not meet his requests.

The 34-year-old faces three charges in the United States related to stolen identification documents from Singapore. He is accused of sending two e-mails on Jan 22 and Feb 18 this year with the intent to extort from the Singapore Government, and of knowingly possessing the stolen documents in violation of federal law.

The Singapore authorities first became aware in 2016 that Farrera-Brochez had accessed the data-base when he gave them the names and details of 75 individuals from the HIV Registry, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong had told Parliament in February.

On Monday, Ministry of Health (MOH) communicable diseases director Vernon Lee testified that following a police investigation in 2016, the ministry had no reason to believe that Farrera-Brochez had kept any part of the database. The version he had accessed appeared to be from 2012, Dr Lee said.

 
 
 

The resurfacing of the stolen data this year "was the first time we knew he had the entire database of thousands of records". "It was a complete shock to us," Dr Lee told the 12-member jury.

Ms King recounted how her son contacted her again in the middle of last year from the Philippines following his deportation from Singapore, where he had been jailed for drug and fraud-related crimes.

She agreed to e-mail him the files, she said, "because he would stop berating me and being mean".

Mother and son did not look at each other throughout the hearing.

In a series of phone calls, e-mails and text messages which she later resorted to blocking, Farrera-Brochez asked her to send the downloaded files. But she did not do so as she could not find them. "I didn't want anything to do with anything," added Ms King, who was later heard crying as she left the courtroom.

US prosecutors sought to prove that he knowingly sent messages from one country to another with a wrongful threat to extort something of value from the Singapore Government.

The court was played a recording he made of a phone call with Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent Chelsea Holliday, during which he said: "I am willing to cooperate, but they are going to have to release my husband."

In the same call, he also asked for the medical licence of his partner Ler Teck Siang, who was convicted of drug and fraud crimes, to be restored and his cats to be returned.

Dr Lee testified that the leak of the database had caused shock, fear and anxiety among the thousands of HIV patients on the registry as the ministry worked to contact them in the wake of the leak.

"Some were depressed, even suicidal, because of this," he said, adding that the leak adversely affected the trust that patients had in MOH to safeguard their data. "If the data is published, who knows what others might use the data for."

Over 5½ hours, the jury heard from seven witnesses, including five law enforcement officers involved in the case. Ms Holliday said she had tried multiple times to get Farrera-Brochez in for an interview in January after investigators were alerted to the HIV database leak.

 
 
 

"He said he would rather put a bullet in his head than turn over the database," she said as she recounted earlier phone conversations with him.

When her phone calls to him could not get through on Feb 21, Ms Holliday asked Ms King for help.

After Ms King gave her a possible location over an hour's drive away, a police officer found and detained him near there, at a barn just off a highway, where he appeared to have been living out of his car.

Ms Holliday testified that copies of the HIV database had been found in seven of the 11 devices seized from Farrera-Brochez. She also found an active link to a spreadsheet stored on the Google Drive cloud service which contained the database information.

If convicted of the first two charges, he faces up to two years in jail and a fine of up to US$250,000 (S$342,000) on each charge. If convicted of the third charge, he may be jailed for up to five years and fined up to US$250,000.

Farrera-Brochez was scheduled to testify yesterday. The trial is expected to conclude the same day.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2019, with the headline 'Farrera-Brochez had mum download files he kept in Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe