Singapore: The appeal against the conviction and imprisonment of Ler Teck Siang, the other half of the duo central to the country’s recent HIV data leak scandal, was denied at the High Court on March 11, Monday.
According to High Court Judge Chua Lee Ming, the evidence against the doctor is “convincing,” and that he is “an instigator, not just as an accessory” in the violations that occurred.
The judge further explained, “You have given your statements voluntarily. Your explanations for what you have said in your statements are creative, and in part, illogical. I am not persuaded that the sentences given (to you)…are manifestly excessive.”
Dr Ler used to head the Ministry of Health (MOH)’s National Public Health Unit (NPHU). He resigned from the Ministry in January 2014.
The Singaporean doctor has been scheduled to start his sentence on March 21. He had asked for a three-week delay for this schedule, claiming the need for some time to arrange his personal affairs, including the care of his unspecified pets. He also needed time to prepare the exhibits and witnesses for his trial since Dr Lek is representing himself.
The judge had granted that Ler should start serving his sentence on March 20, but this was adjusted to a day later, upon the request of his mother, Ong Yap Keng, whose birthday is on March 20. Via a court interpreter, she said at Dr Ler’s hearing, “I do not want it to be on the same day,” in Mandarin.
Ms Ong is the one who posted bail for Dr Lek.
In November, the doctor was given a two-year jail sentence upon his conviction on two more charges of giving false information to a public servant after a trial as well as two charges of cheating.
Dr Ler said he had aided his husband, Mikhy Farera Brochez, in passing off fake blood samples on two separate occasions. Mr Brochez did this in order to get a permit for employment in Singapore, as well as to keep the fact that he is HIV-positive hidden from the authorities.
The police, along with the MOH, looked into the blood sample that was supposedly drawn from Mr Brochez.
In December 2013, Dr Ler told an investigator from the MOH that it was not he who attended to Mr Brochez at the medical center. And the following month, he told a police investigator that a blood sample supplied and tested the previous November belonged to Mr Brochez.
Both of these statements are untrue.
The doctor faces additional charges under the Official Secrets Act since he had failed to take reasonable care of confidential information. As the head of the NPHU, he had access to the country’s HIV Registry.
Dr Ler is facing drug-related charges as well.
His court dates for these charges are in May and July.
He was released on a bail of S$40,000 after his sentence in November 2018, although he is required to wear an electronic tag.
The prosecutor in Dr Ler’s case had also requested that a 10 am through 6 pm curfew be imposed on him, to which the High Court judge agreed, having deemed him to be a flight risk. The prosecutor also asked yesterday that the curfew continue to be observed until the doctor begins his sentence in jail.
At the High Court on Monday, as Dr Lek began his argument against his present conviction, he said that some of the “key information” contained in the confessions he made to the police had been purposefully fabricated, and were “75 percent true but 25 percent false.”
According to Dr Ler, he did this in order for authorities to have a “bargaining chip” in order to prevent Mr Brochez from spreading confidential data from the MOH.
He said this was an “impulsive reaction” to what he believed was discrimination from the MOH.
The doctor refuted one of the claims of the prosecution, who said that when Mr Brochez took an HIV blood test at the Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association (SATA) Chinatown clinic in May 2008, he used a falsified passport from the Bahamas, and that Dr Ler gave his own blood sample in lieu of Mr Brochez’ after finding out that he was HIV-positive, so that Mr Brochez could obtain an employment permit from the Ministry of Manpower.
People who have been diagnosed as HIV-positive are not permitted to be employed in Singapore.
Dr Ler said that he was not the one who provided Mr Brochez with a blood sample, insisting someone else had done this.
The judge asked Dr Ler why Mr Brochez had provided a blood sample from another individual?
The doctor replied, “It has been shown that Brochez has no regard for the law and any rules. He is known to be a fraudster,” and he added that Mr Brochez had a fear of needles.
However, according to the prosecution, Dr Ler’s conviction last November was “well-founded.”
Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck represented the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) in the case.
He said that it was “absolutely clear” that Mr Brochez had tested positive for HIV at the clinic. The fake passport from the Bahamas that included the photo of Mr Brochez had been taken by authorities from his own home.
According to the prosecution, Dr Ler’s accountability in the violations was even greater than Mr Brochez, since it was his idea to submit falsified information to MOM and was “absolutely instrumental to the success of the plan”.
The Solicitor-General said, “Dr Ler wasted significant resources in claiming trial … and spinning a fanciful fairytale. Numerous public agencies were deceived. MOM was deceived two times. MOH and also the police were deceived by the false information offences.
There were three distinct public agencies that were deceived, and it is well established that offences involving the cheating of a government department or agency should attract a sentence of general deterrence, even where no financial loss is caused to the Government.”
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