HIV data leak: MOH takes legal action against Brochez in US courts

Mikhy Farrera Brochez was charged in a Kentucky court with the possession and unlawful transfer of stolen identification documents, the US Department of Justice announced on Feb 22, 2019. PHOTO: ARDEN BARNES FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Health (MOH) is taking legal action in the United States courts against American Mikhy Farrera Brochez to reacquire the HIV Registry stolen data in his possession.

In two separate statements on Saturday (Feb 23), the MOH first said it has filed civil proceedings in the US courts before elaborating later that it has sought an injunction from the US court to "prevent further disclosure of the confidential information that Mikhy Brochez had obtained from the Singapore Government, and to get him to return the information".

These moves come shortly after the Justice Department in the US said on Friday that Brochez had been investigated by the FBI and was charged in a Kentucky court with the possession and unlawful transfer of stolen identification documents.

Brochez, 34, was named by the MOH last month as the culprit who leaked online the personal information of 14,200 individuals with HIV.

In a news release, the US Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Kentucky said: "The criminal complaint alleges that Farrera-Brochez illegally possessed and intended to distribute data containing sensitive medical and other identifying information.

"While living in the Eastern District of Kentucky, Farrera-Brochez sent links to the data from his e-mail account to several news outlets. He also sent e-mails to several government officials in Singapore containing links to the data."

Hours later, the MOH and Singapore Police Force said in a joint statement: "The Singapore authorities are aware that Brochez has been arrested and charged in court in Kentucky, USA. The Singapore authorities have been working closely with our US counterparts.

"Concurrently, we have also filed civil proceedings in the US courts, and are doing everything we can to protect the interests of the individuals affected."

MOH revealed on Jan 28 that Brochez got hold of the details of 14,200 people diagnosed with HIV here since 1985, and leaked the data which included their names, contact details and medical information. He has denied the allegations.

Brochez lived in Singapore from 2008 before being jailed in 2017 for several fraud and drug-related offences and lying to the Ministry of Manpower about his own HIV status.

He was released in April 2018 and deported.

In Parliament earlier this month, Singapore's Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that police will "spare no effort" in bringing to justice Brochez to justice.

The Straits Times had earlier reported that a tricky process lies ahead in seeking Brochez's return to Singapore, as he is not the subject of an arrest warrant here nor facing charges under the Official Secrets Act (OSA).

MOH's decision to seek an injunction is one of several legal options the authorities could pursue after they filed civil proceedings, lawyers who The Straits Times spoke to had said.

Hilborne Law managing director Rajan Supramaniam said these could be claims for damages, intrusion into a person's privacy or defamation.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said: "It is unlikely that the authorities here will be suing him for damages, because compensation will be grossly inadequate for the distress and anguish caused.

"What is precious are the stolen records, and the imperative is to compel him to return what he has stolen, so that further leaks are prevented."

Last Monday, Brochez was in court to face trespassing charges, after having been arrested in December for refusing to leave his mother's home in Clark County in Winchester, Kentucky.

The Straits Times understands Brochez is currently being detained at the request of the US government pending the outcome of the case regarding the possession and unlawful transfer of stolen identification documents.

He will appear before a judge in Lexington on Feb 27 to determine whether he should continue to be detained or released while the case is pending.

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