It was a scandal that reverberated across Asia, and threatened the safety of thousands of HIV-positive people living in Singapore where gay sex is technically illegal.
A gay, HIV-positive American man living in Singapore obtained a government registry of 14,200 HIV-positive people, including names, addresses, and other personal information, and leaked it to make a point: The registry was wrong, and it should have never existed in the first place.
“I think it is a complete joke and they are using it to target men who have sex with men and drug users.” Mikhy Farrera-Brochez, 34, told VICE News in February. “Having an HIV registry serves no purpose to public health. There’s no need to register someone, if you are doing that you are stigmatizing that person.”
A Kentucky court didn’t quite see it that way. Since Farrera-Brochez transported the database to the U.S., he faced prosecution under U.S. laws, and on Tuesday a jury convicted him on three felony counts of fraud and threatening interstate communications in U.S. District Court.
He could face a maximum sentence of nine years in prison and a fine of up to $750,000. Farrera-Brochez will remain in custody until his sentencing in September.
The trial lasted two days, and the jury deliberated for less than two hours before handing down their guilty verdict.
On Monday, jurors heard from more than half a dozen witnesses, including FBI Special Agent Chelsea Holliday who testified she’d struggled to get Farrera-Brochez to cooperate with U.S. authorities, who arrested him in February.
“He said he'd rather put a bullet in his head than turn over the database,” Holliday said.
Farrera-Brochez’s mother Teresa King, also testified and said that her son bullied her in an attempt to get her to help him save and transfer portions of the HIV registry.
“I didn't want anything to do with anything," King said, before she left the courtroom in tears, according to The Straits Times, an English-language daily newspaper based in Singapore.
Adele Burt Brown, Farrera-Brochez’ attorney, told VICE News she believes her client will get a much lighter sentence than the maximum.
"I don't know how long he'll have to serve. It could be as little as 10 months, but might be as much as 18-24 months,” Adele Burt Brown, Farrera-Brochez's attorney, told VICE News. "There is not likely to be a fine."
The HIV registry data leak has been widely reported across Asia and in Singapore, as did the revelation that the government might have known about Farrera-Brochez’s access to the HIV registry as early as 2012 and kept it secret.
That possibility shook the LGBT community in Singapore where people with HIV-positive status can face life-altering discrimination.
“A person's HIV status is a deeply emotional and personal matter, some patients will experience high anxiety and distress from disclosure or announcement,” Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Singapore’s parliament in February.
Farrera-Brochez told VICE News in an interview that the registry had been stored on a computer belonging to his then-boyfriend, a Singaporean doctor named Ler Teck Siang who worked for the Ministry of Health’s National Public Health Unit and had access to the registry.
Farrera-Brochez called himself “a bit erratic” in court testimony, adding that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after being beaten and gang-raped in Singaporean jail, the Straits Times reported. Farrera-Brochez was imprisoned for more than two years over accusations that he cheated on a blood test to obtain a work permit and stay in Singapore, where HIV-positive foreigners are not allowed to work.
The Singapore Prison Service and the Singapore police called Farrera-Brochez’s allegations “baseless” in a statement earlier this year.
According to Holliday’s affidavit, Farrera-Brochez originally contacted the FBI in November 2018, alleging that Ler married him under false pretenses and conspired with Singaporean authorities to falsely imprison him.
American investigators found copies of the HIV database on seven of the 11 devices seized from Farrera-Brochez, as well as on a Google Drive cloud. Prosecutors said that Farrera-Brochez threatened to disclose the information more widely on several occasions if Ler was not released from prison and if Farrera-Brochez did not obtain an investigation of crimes allegedly committed against him in Singapore.
Ler, 38, who is already serving a two-year sentence for helping Farrera-Brochez fake a government mandated blood test in order to obtain a pass to work in the country, returned to Singaporean court last week to stand trial for two additional drug-related charges.
Ler is also charged with failing to take reasonable care of confidential information under the Officials Secrets Act and refusing to provide a urine sample to Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau. If found guilty, he could be jailed for more than ten years, fined up to $30,000, or both, Channel News Asia reported.
Before beginning his sentenced in March, Ler told VICE News that Farrera-Brochez “released the database in the hope that it would put the local authorities in a bad light, thereby embarrassing them.”
“I know Mikhy subscribes to the adage that ‘information is power,’” he said. “At the end of the day, all he wants, really, is to be heard.”
Cover: This undated photo made available by the Fayette County Department of Corrections shows Mikhy Farrera Brochez under arrest. Farrera Brochez, is accused of leaking information on thousands of HIV victims in Singapore, appears in U.S. District Court Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, after being charged with possession and unlawful transfer of stolen documents. (Fayette County Department of Corrections via AP)