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November 25 2018

Fake doctor scandal: Kiwi in UK jail after 22-year career

A New Zealand woman has been jailed in the UK after she was found to have provided fake qualifications to work as a doctor for more than two decades.  Zholia Alemi was last month jailed for five years after eventually being found out when she was convicted of trying to fake the will of an elderly female patient.

The New Zealander's two-decade deception has sparked urgent checks in Britain - with 3000 foreign doctors to have their credentials investigated.  Alemi, 56, claimed to have a degree from the University of Auckland when she came to work in the UK in 1992.  In reality, the convicted fraudster had flunked her first year and dropped out.

But nobody at the General Medical Council, the watchdog responsible for vetting the background of medics, checked whether her documentation was genuine.  Alemi, 56, is said to have provided a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery certificate from the university when she arrived in the UK in the early 1990s.

A spokeswoman for the university told the Herald Alemi was awarded a Bachelor of Human Biology on May 5, 1992.  She also started a medical degree - but did not complete it, the university said.  At that time, doctors from certain Commonwealth countries could be cleared to start work simply by presenting their qualifications, without sitting any assessments.  Alemi held a degree in human biology.

For the next 22 years, starting in 1995, she worked as a psychiatrist for the UK's National Health Service - treating thousands of mental health patients over that period and potentially earning up to £100,000 ($188,000) a year.  She also reportedly drove a Lotus Elise sports car.

Alemi's patients told to contact their GP

In a since deleted profile, Alemi says of herself: "I am a retired psychiatrist and a member of the London Royal College of Psychiatrists with a special interest in developmental conditions such as Asperger's ...'' The GMC is now informing anyone who was treated by Alemi at a GP surgery, hospital or clinic to get in touch with their GP.

Chief executive for the council, Charlie Massey, said staff immediately brought the situation to the attention of police and other agencies - including health authorities - when they discovered Alemi's fraudulent qualification.  She worked as a doctor up until June of last year.  "Our processes are far stronger now, with rigorous testing in place to ensure those joining the register are fit to work in the UK.  "It is clear that in this case the steps taken in the 1990s were inadequate and we apologise for any risk arising to patients as a result.  "We are confident that, 23 years on, our systems are robust and would identify any fraudulent attempt to join the medical register."

A judge described her as "despicable'' when she was sentenced last month, the Daily Mail reported.  Alemi was last month found guilty of four fraud and theft charges after a week-long trial at Carlisle Crown Court.  The New Zealander met Gillian Belham, now aged 87, at a dementia clinic in Workington in February 2016.  Within four months she had redrafted Belham's will - and fraudulently applied for power of attorney.

Belham's extended family and a raft of charities were "entirely written out" of the bogus will.  Instead, Belham's assets were to be held in a trust for the benefit of Alemi's grandchildren.  Judge James Adkin said Alemi's offending was "wicked''.  "This was despicable, cruel criminality motivated by pure greed and you must be severely punished for it."

Had she been successful, she would have stolen up to £1.3 million ($2.4m) of the woman's fortune.