HIV data leak: Mikhy Farrera-Brochez slapped with 3 charges by US grand jury

Mikhy Farrera Brochez is escorted out of the Clark County District Court house in Winchester, Kentucky, on Feb 18, 2019. PHOTO: ARDEN BARNES FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

WASHINGTON - Mikhy Farrera-Brochez was formally charged by a grand jury in Kentucky on Thursday over offences related to stolen identification documents from Singapore, bringing him one step closer to a trial.

The 34-year-old American was named by Ministry of Health (MOH) in January as the person behind the online leak of Singapore's HIV registry.

Grand juries review evidence brought before them by prosecutors to decide if there is sufficient proof to formally charge a person, unlike regular juries which listen to evidence during a trial and decide if a defendant is guilty or not.

If Farrera-Brochez pleads not guilty to the charges, his case will proceed to a regular jury trial.

The first charge, of intent to extort, centred on an e-mail Farrera-Brochez sent from Kentucky to Singapore on Jan 22. The e-mail contained a threat to injure the reputation of Singapore government officials and the Ministry of Health, according to the grand jury charges seen by The Sunday Times.

An affidavit from FBI special agent Chelsea Holliday said Farrera-Brochez asked the Singapore government to investigate crimes allegedly committed against him in Singapore. He included in his e-mail several links to documents stored on Google Drive, which he said were links to the HIV registry.

The second charge of intent to extort involved another e-mail he sent on Feb 18 to Singapore officials.

Each charge carries a penalty of up to two years in jail, a fine of up to US$250,000 (S$340,000) and supervised release of up to one year.

Ms Holliday said Farrera-Brochez wrote in this e-mail that he would continue releasing the confidential information he had until the Singapore Government ended the HIV registry and released his husband, Dr Ler Teck Siang, "from the unlawful imprisonment based on false charges".

Ler was convicted in 2016 of helping him give false information to the authorities and is appealing against the conviction.

On the same day he sent this second e-mail, Farrera-Brochez appeared in court in Winchester, Kentucky, to plead not guilty to an unrelated charge of criminal trespass.

He was arrested three days later, on Feb 21, in connection with the latest case.

The third charge, also focusing on his Jan 22 e-mail, related to his unlawfully transferring or possessing identification documents with the intent to extort. If convicted of this charge, he may be jailed up to five years, fined up to US$250,000 and be subject to supervision for up to three years after his release.

If convicted, Farrera-Brochez will also be ordered to surrender a list of property detailed by the grand jury, which includes two cellphones, two memory cards, a USB storage device, a flash drive and two external hard drives.

He must also give up his two Google mail accounts.

The grand jury singled out all these as having been used, or intended to be used, to commit his offences.

His preliminary hearing, known as an arraignment, is set for March 19. He will be read the charges against him and must plead guilty or not guilty. Farrera-Brochez has the right to a trial within 70 days of the arraignment. He is currently in federal custody.

He has been ordered to hand over all copies of confidential data to MOH and delete all such information still in his possession, under a separate civil lawsuit brought by MOH.

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