Fraudulent psychiatrist Zholia Alemi came to ‘believe her own lie’

Fraudulent psychiatrist Zholia Alemi came to ‘believe her own lie’

A bogus psychiatrist who came to “believe her own lie” was found out when police discovered a “treasure trove” of documents at her house, a detective has said.

Zholia Alemi was jailed for seven years on Tuesday after being found guilty of using a forged medical degree certificate to get a number of NHS jobs over a period of more than 20 years.

Alemi’s lie began to unravel in 2016 when a carer reported concerns about her attempts to defraud an elderly patient and she was convicted of three fraud offences at Carlisle Crown Court.

Journalist Phil Coleman, of the Cumbrian newspaper News and Star, went on to discover Alemi had never completed the medical degree at the University of Auckland in New Zealand she claimed to have, and a police investigation was launched.

Detective Superintendent Matt Scott of Cumbria Police said: “We conducted search warrants in a number of properties, but predominantly in Northern Ireland at Alemi’s home address.

“What we found there was what I would describe as a treasure trove in terms of the investigation.

Zholia Alemi
Zholia Alemi (Cumbria Police/PA)

“There was what are now proven to be false certificates; there was what I’d describe as a forger’s kit with transfer letters, blank certificates of qualification that basically you could put almost anything you want on there, really.”That was all located at that address along with thousands and thousands of other documents, letters, a number of which were false. So that really kick-started the investigation in terms of getting towards a prosecution.”

After registering with the General Medical Council in 1995 using the fake certificate and a forged letter of verification, Alemi worked for health trusts in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, earning up to £1.3 million.

Mr Scott said Alemi denied wrongdoing throughout and was “obstructive”, “difficult to deal with”, and, on occasion, “arrogant” while being interviewed.

“My view, and it’s my own personal view, is that Alemi’s lived a lie since she left Iran, where she originally came from,” he said.

“I also think that to get to the bottom of somebody who’s lived a lie for their entire life may be near impossible, especially when – again in my personal view – Alemi is somebody who has come to believe her own lie and has lived that lie for so long.

“What we can say for the moment is the moment she left Auckland to come to the UK, that’s when the lie began. She’d failed when she came to the UK and everything after that has been entirely untrue.”

Giving evidence, Alemi said she and her family were tortured in Iran before she fled to New Zealand.

Mr Scott said there was no evidence to support her claim.

He said the complex case, which involved the NHS, GMC, Royal College of Psychiatrists and the NHS Counter Fraud Authority, was a “once-in-a-career kind of investigation”.

He said: “I’ve dealt with a number of serious cases, I’ve never dealt with one like this before. I don’t think I’ll ever deal with one like this ever again.”

Once Alemi is sentenced, police will apply to claw back some of the money she fraudulently earned.

Mr Scott said: “She lived a good lifestyle, as you’d expect from somebody in such a senior role and position of responsibility.

“So the next stage in what we want to do now is to make sure that all of those ill-gotten gains are taken from her and put back where they need to be.”

Janice Wild from the Crown Prosecution Service said: “Alemi used forged New Zealand medical qualifications to obtain employment as a UK NHS psychiatrist for 20 years. In doing so, she must have treated hundreds of patients when she was unqualified to do so, potentially putting them at risk.

“Her fraudulent actions also enabled her to dishonestly earn income and benefits in excess of £1 million to which she was not entitled.

“We will now pursue confiscation proceedings against her, aiming to recover the criminal property from which she has benefitted.”