A "bogus" psychiatrist who was paid more than £1million after working for the NHS for two decades has been found guilty of fraud and deception.
Zholia Alemi faked her qualifications so she could join the medical register and work for various healthcare trusts and bodies across the UK. Iranian-born Alemi, believed to be 60, was described by prosecutors as a "most accomplished forger and fraudster".
For almost 20 years, she was allowed to treat thousands of mental health patients: prescribing medication, making assessments, and even sanctioning detentions under the Mental Heath Act.
Her deception only came to light after she was jailed in 2018 for faking a grief-stricken widow's will in an attempt to defraud her out of her £1.3-million inheritance.
Ms Alemi, who claimed to have gained the necessary degree at the University of Auckland in 1992, had denied 13 counts of fraud, three counts of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception, two counts of forgery, and two counts of using a false instrument.
Never a Qualified Doctor
She was convicted by a jury at Manchester Crown Court after a 5-week trial. All the charges related to the period September 1995 to June 2017 after she moved to the UK.
The jury heard Alemi had never actually been a qualified doctor and had not passed the required 6-year university course after failing her year-two exams. She used a forged degree certificate and fake documents to fool the General Medical Council (GMC) into granting her medical registration in 1995, leaving her free pursue her fraudulent career.
Christopher Stables, prosecuting, said Alemi had never gained the primary medical qualification required by doctors and used deception and fraud to obtain employment and a "conservative estimate" of the money she fraudulently obtained was "somewhere between £1 million and £1.3 million".
He said that Alemi used a route open to doctors from certain Commonwealth countries until 2003 to join the medical register after claiming to hold a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor, or Surgery (MBchB) degree. In reality, her only qualification was a degree in human biology but her deception meant she could start work without sitting the standard two-part assessment on her medical knowledge and skills.
Mr Stables told the jury that Alemi used forged documents and "bogus" assertions about her experience, and "completely deceived" the GMC, despite her application containing spelling and grammatical errors.
The jury heard when police raided one of her properties in Omagh, Northern Ireland, in 2019 they discovered a "forger’s kit". Items found at the house in a briefcase included dry transfer letters purchased from WH Smith and blank degree documents, which she used to make her fake university certificate.
Denied Forging Documents
Ms Alemi, who gained a diploma in mental health at Queens University, Belfast, in July 1998, and went on become a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, claimed to be an appropriately qualified and denied forging documents.
She said the University of Auckland had made "mistakes" with its records while there was innocent explanation for blank university degrees certificates and "practice versions" of documents found at her home.
She claimed to have bought some certificates from a souvenir shop, and said one certificate of her brother's name for a Diploma in Management was just to "make him laugh".
"I think I bought quite a few. It was just funny in the 80s and 90s," she said.
The jury heard how Alemi was jailed for 5 years at Carlisle Crown Court in 2018 after she used her position at a dementia clinic in west Cumbria to attempt to inherit a vulnerable patient’s £1.3-million estate.
She befriended the 84-year-old widow and took control of her financial affairs before tricking the pensioner's neighbours into signing a fake will that left her and her four grandchildren as the chief beneficiaries, with her actions deemed "despicable criminality, motivated by pure greed" by a judge.
During her trial, it emerged she had amassed assets of £380,000 and collected champagne as an "investment".
Numerous Previous Complaints and GMC Investigations
Following her conviction, a local newspaper investigation uncovered Alemi's life of deception. Despite numerous complaints and nine GMC investigations, dating back to 1998, the only sanctions she received were conditions and a warning.
She was eventually suspended in 2017 following her arrest for fraud and theft and the GMC withdrew her licence to practice in November 2018. Her Royal College of Psychiatrists membership was also terminated.
Judge Hilary Manley remanded Alemi in custody until sentencing on February 28 and warned her that she was facing a "substantial" term in prison. She described her crimes as "serious offences" that involved "deliberate and wicked deception" against authorities, including the GMC.
The GMC previously acknowledged the "inadequate" steps taken at the time of her registration and apologised for "any risk" arising to patients as a result. Alemi’s case led to the GMC reviewing the medical qualifications of the 3117 doctors who joined the medical register using the same Commonwealth route as Alemi, and were still practising in the UK.