Fake psychiatrist Zholia Alemi who worked illegally for over 20 years jailed for fraud
A woman who pretended to be a qualified psychiatrist to work illegally for more than 20 years has been jailed for fraud.
Zholia Alemi forged a degree certificate from the University of Auckland in New Zealand and the verification letter she submitted to the General Medical Council (GMC) in 1995, Manchester Crown Court heard.
It allowed her to work for NHS trusts and private providers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, jurors were told.
During that time, Alemi, of Burnley, earned approximately £1.3m, was able to detain patients against their will, and prescribe them heavy medication.
She was sentenced to seven years in prison for 13 counts of fraud, three of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception, two of forgery, and two of using a false instrument.
Judge Hilary Manley said her crimes "strike so very deeply at the heart of healthcare provisions in this country".
"That the degree certificate and supporting letter were accepted by the GMC represents an abject failure of scrutiny," she said.
"You benefited from that failure and of course from your own deliberate and calculated dishonesty."
The judge said the court was particularly "troubled" by evidence given by a GMC representative during the four-week trial, which claimed it upheld a "high level of scrutiny" of documents.
A statement by the GMC later admitted its procedures in the 1990s were not subject to "rigorous scrutiny".
Prosecuting, Christopher Stables KC told jurors Alemi was born in Iran, but it was not clear how old she was. Documents gave three different ages for her between 55 and 60, he said.
2018 fraud conviction sparked newspaper probe
She was in New Zealand in the 1990s when she failed to complete the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees required to become a doctor and was refused the chance to retake.
In 2018 she was convicted of fraud and theft at Carlisle Crown Court after trying to forge power of attorney document for an elderly patient.
After her conviction, the chief reporter of Cumbrian Newspapers Phil Coleman looked into her qualifications.
Mr Stables said that the current court proceedings had come as a "direct result" of his investigative journalism.
Defending, Francis Fitzgibbons KC said that prison would be "particularly onerous" for "someone with her characteristics".
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Una Lane, director of registration and revalidation at the GMC, said in a statement: "We are very sorry that Zholia Alemi was able to join our medical register in the 1990s, based on fraudulent documentation, and for any risk arising to patients as a result.
"Our processes are far stronger now, with rigorous testing in place to make sure those joining the register are fit to work in the UK.
"It is clear that in this case the steps taken almost three decades ago were inadequate. We are confident that, 27 years on, our systems are robust.
"Patients deserve good care from appropriately qualified professionals and place a great deal of trust in doctors. To exploit that trust and the respected name of the profession is abhorrent."