This Week in Asia

The American at the centre of Singapore's HIV data leak scandal ran education-related businesses in Hong Kong, charging as much as HK$8,000 for each assessment of a child with special needs, the South China Morning Post has found.

Mikhy Farrera Brochez, 34, who claimed to be a child prodigy and used fake credentials to obtain teaching jobs in at least two tertiary education institutions in Singapore, is listed on the website of a Hong Kong centre called Guia Education as its executive director.

Brochez's photograph as it appears on the website of Guia Education. Photo: Handout

He could now face charges of fraud, according to a Hong Kong barrister with more than three decades of legal experience, highlighting the need to tighten scrutiny of foreigners who claim to be experts when they come to work in the city.

Brochez is believed to have been in Hong Kong before moving to Singapore in 2008, where he remained until he was deported last April after serving a jail term for several fraud and drug-related offences.

He is now in the United States, where he appeared in court in Winchester, Kentucky, on February 18 to face charges of criminal trespass on his mother's property.

The Singapore government revealed in January that all the education certificates found in Brochez's home there were fake, including a master's degree in developmental and child psychology as well as a doctorate in psychology and education from the University of Paris.

Guia Education's website carries a photograph of Brochez and lists his credentials as "APA, APS, MCollT, MS DPSY, DipED". APA refers to the American Psychological Association and APS to the American Physiological Society. It also lists several other staff members.

"We envision a society where each child, irrespective of background or ability, receives an affordable, easily accessible, world-class education in a compassionate and inclusive environment," the site says.

An image shared on the Guia Education Facebook page in 2015. Photo: Facebook

Created in December 2009, the site was last altered in February 2015. Guia Education also has a Facebook page that has not been updated since April 2016.

An APA spokeswoman told the Post that neither Brochez nor any of Guia Education's staff were members on its database. Members must have a doctorate in psychology or a related field from a regionally accredited institution.

The spokeswoman said that more than four years ago it had a student affiliate named Carmen Chan, the name listed as Guia Education's head of Mandarin Educational Services, but she could not confirm that this was the same person. Psychology students can apply to be APA student affiliates.

Singaporeans were shocked to learn in January that Brochez, who has HIV, had got hold of confidential details of 14,200 people diagnosed with the virus since 1985 and leaked the data online after leaving Singapore. Earlier this month, he released details of 13 HIV-positive people due for a check-up at the Changi Prison Complex on March 28 last year.

The Singapore government has dismissed Brochez's claims that he was denied treatment and abused while in prison, with the city state's police calling him a "pathological liar" in a statement. A police report has been made about his latest data leak.

The Post learned of Brochez's Hong Kong connection from a Singapore source who met the American soon after he arrived in the city state to be with his partner, Ler Teck Siang, a doctor who headed the Health Ministry unit where the registry of HIV patients was kept. Brochez and Ler got to know each other on a gay dating site and met for the first time in Hong Kong in 2007.

King's Road No. 500 in North Point, where Guia Education claimed to have an office. Photo: Phila Siu

The Guia Education website says it has an office on the 16th floor of Island Place, King's Road No. 500 in North Point but when the Post visited the address, there was only a low-rise shopping centre there.

There is a 29-floor office building, Island Place Tower, at nearby No 510, but there was no Guia Education office there. Two people working in companies on the 16th floor said they had never heard of it.

There are no corporate filings for Guia Education in Companies Registry records, suggesting the centre is not a company in Hong Kong.

It is not known if the centre had any clients, but the website claims that Guia Education also ran the Island Development Centre for gifted children and children with special needs, catering to more than 130 special needs children and their families each year.

Hong Kong barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung said Brochez could have committed fraud and violated the trade descriptions ordinance if he used fake qualifications to sell services to parents.

"That is because you were telling your clients you had such qualifications while you actually did not," he said.

The American could be charged with these two offences even if the centre never had any clients, Luk said. If Brochez had any clients, he could face further charges, the barrister said.

Hong Kong barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung. Photo: Diana Lee

The Guia Education website quotes HK$7,500 for a "development assessment" by a speech therapist and an occupational therapist lasting up to two hours, which it says is for all children but especially those suspected of having developmental delays or other disorders.

It also quotes HK$8,000 for a "diagnostic assessment" to comparatively measure a child's educational strengths and weaknesses.

Messages sent to the three email addresses listed on the website bounced back, with auto replies saying: "Address not found".

Dr Alex Chan Chi-keung, an assistant professor at Shue Yan University's department of counselling and psychology, said it is not uncommon for people with questionable credentials to practise educational psychology in Hong Kong.

This is because the government lacks regulation in this area, and there are numerous credentials, societies and tests.

"Misdiagnosis in assessments may have long-term consequences on children," he said. "It may give false hope to parents who think that their children are gifted. It can even affect children's brains if they are misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and given medication."

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, said: "For children who have received incorrect treatment and advice, it could be very dangerous. Parents have to be very careful in choosing who they want to seek help from."

Brochez was in his mid-20s when he moved to Singapore in 2008 " a year after meeting Ler " and obtained an employment pass to teach in a polytechnic.

Explaining his array of impressive academic credentials, he told a Singapore newspaper in 2010 that he was a gifted child who could read, write and speak fluent Hebrew, Spanish and English by the age of three.

He claimed that his mother was a "renowned professor of child and adolescent psychology, child neurology and gifted science and mathematics education in the UK" and that he was her successful "laboratory rat" as she tested her theories of gifted education on him.

After his arrest in Singapore, British online newspaper The Independent quoted the British Psychological Society as saying his mother's name was not on its register of psychologists affiliated to any academic institution in the UK.

His mother actually lives in Kentucky, in the southern United States, from where she called the police when Brochez turned up at her home last year, leading to his arrest for criminal trespass.

Brochez lived in Singapore with Ler until his arrest in 2016. He was jailed for 28 months for several offences, including lying to the government about his HIV status and using fake degrees.

The Singapore government has said it became aware in April 2016 that Brochez possessed data from the Health Ministry's HIV registry. Ler had access to the data at his workplace.

But it was only last month that Singapore's Ministry of Health revealed that Brochez had the data and had leaked it online. The information included names, phone numbers and addresses of Singaporeans and who had tested positive for HIV.

Ler now faces various charges himself, including one under the Official Secrets Act for failing to take reasonable care of HIV patients' confidential information. He is also accused of helping Brochez conceal his HIV status from the authorities by submitting false blood test results.

The source who told the Post about Brochez's Hong Kong past recalled meeting him a few times socially in Singapore and said the American came across as "a complete liar".

Brochez even once claimed to have worked as a spy. Photo: Alamy

He found Brochez's resume to be incredible for someone so young, but when he started asking questions about the places he claimed to have graduated from, Brochez cut him off and "that was the end of the friendship".

"In addition to all the fake educational credentials, he claimed he had worked for the (Israeli spy agency) Mossad. The stories just didn't add up," the source said.

"He seemed ridiculous. One time, he was reading a novel at a cocktail party. The next time I saw him, he was very obnoxious, screaming and throwing people in the pool."

Additional reporting by Bhavan Jaipragas

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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