Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, February 12, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong gave the assurance that authorities will stop at nothing to ensure that Mikhy Farrera Brochez, the US national who had stolen the data of over 14,000 HIV patients in Singapore, would be brought to justice.
Gan said the “Police will spare no effort pursuing all avenues to bring Brochez to justice.”
While authorities had been aware for nearly three years that the data had been breached, decisions had been made not to disclose this, for the purpose of protecting the privacy of the HIV patients involved, who had been put in a vulnerable position.
Gan clarified that there had been no cover-up of the leak saying that the Ministry of Health (MOH) had “made a judgment call, balancing the various considerations.”
The Health Minister said, “On one hand, there is the need to be transparent. On the other hand, we need to consider the impact of an announcement on the affected persons with HIV – would it serve their interest, or harm them instead?”
And while it could be argued in hindsight that the MOH “should have made a different call,” Gan added firmly “but I reject any allegation that [it] sought to cover up the incident.”
Gan added that Brochez, who is believed to be in America, is currently under investigation. There is a possibility that Brochez has additional sensitive and confidential information in his possession. But Singapore’s police are working with authorities in the United States to bring him to justice. The Health Minister said, “The police are engaging their American counterparts and are seeking their assistance in the investigations against Brochez.”
Authorities in both countries are also doing online monitoring to watch out for additional leaks since Brochez last month offered the information via links online.
Singapore has suffered a series of health scandals in the past four years. In 2015, an outbreak of hepatitis C killed at least seven individuals. In 2018, hackers breached the data of 1.5 million patients, including that of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Just last month, the news that the information of the country’s HIV patients, both locals and expatriates, had been compromised, scandalized Singapore.
Brochez, who is HIV positive, illegally used a blood sample from his partner, Singaporean doctor Ler Teck Siang, in order to work in the country. Ler, who had been the chief of MOH’s National Public Health Unit from 2012 May 2013, had access to the official HIV registry during that time.
Brochez was indicted on drug-related offences, as well as fraud, and received a 28-month prison sentence in March 2017. In April 2018 Brochez was deported after his release from prison.