MANCHESTER, England – A “bogus” psychiatrist spent two decades working for the country’s National Health Service – earning more than $1 million – after forging her qualifications, a court heard.
Zholia Alemi, described as a “most accomplished forger and fraudster”, is alleged to have fooled the General Medical Council (GMC) into granting her registration as a doctor and then worked for various health trusts across the U.K.
Manchester Crown Court heard how Iranian-born Alemi, believed to be 60, claims to have obtained her doctor’s qualification from the University of Auckland in 1992.
However, it is alleged she never actually passed the six-year Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor or Surgery (MBChB) course and failed her exams before coming to the U.K. three years later.
Christopher Stables, a prosecutor, said, “In a nutshell, the prosecution case against this defendant is that, for a period of approximately 20 years, she held herself out and practiced as a doctor, a doctor of medicine, when, in truth, she had never passed or achieved the relevant university qualification and was not a properly qualified doctor at all.”
“That identifies the issue which is at the heart of this case as you will hear.”
All the charges against Alemi relate to the period September 1995 and June 2017, after she had arrived in the U.K. from New Zealand.
Stables said Alemi was a “fraud” who had secured entry onto the GMC register of medical practitioners by forging her qualifications and other documents.
He explained, “She is, say the prosecution, a most accomplished forger and fraudster, but has no qualification that would allow her to be called, or in any way to be properly regarded as, a doctor.”
Stables said Alemi used deception and fraud to obtain employment and a “conservative estimate” of the money she fraudulently obtained was the U.S. equivalent of between $1.2 million and $1.5 million.
He said the defendant’s case was that she was appropriately qualified and that documents demonstrating her qualifications were all genuine, and she was, therefore, entitled to the renumeration she received.
Her motive was “irrelevant”, he told the jury, but she “may simply have wanted desperately to be a doctor” and, having failed her exams, forged her qualifications so “she could practice in a field that interested or stimulated her.”
She may simply have “wanted the status of doctor”, he said, but it was “unlikely” the true position would be known, and “the fact remains” that the sums she obtained were the consequence of her dishonesty.
The court heard how Alemi was allowed to join the GMC’s medical register by the Commonwealth Route – a legitimate route, closed off in 2003 – which could only be achieved if an applicant held a certain degree known as an MBChB.
However, her application had included spelling and grammatical errors, with an alleged letter of verification for her degree from the university’s School of Medicine coming from a faculty “regitrar” instead of registrar.
The court that the person alleged to have signed the letter had in fact left her post by that time.
Stables said it was the prosecution’s case that the documents Alemi sent to the GMC were not genuine and were “forgeries” and were not issued by the University of Auckland.
The court heard that Alemi had first enrolled at the university in 1988 for a Bachelor of Human Biology course which she gained, after failing some of her exams in 1992.
Stables said this qualification did not make her a doctor, and Alemi was never awarded a degree of MBChB by the University of Auckland after failing her year 2 exams and “proceeding no further.”
He said, “She never graduated as a doctor. And that is why she forged the degree certificate to send to the GMC with her application for registration.” “All of this” was confirmed by university records, he added.
The court heard police had raided one of her properties in Omagh, Northern Ireland, in 2019 and discovered a “forger’s kit.”
Stables said an expert witness would give evidence that items found at the house in a briefcase, which included dry transfer letters purchased from the U.K. store W.H. Smith and blank degree documents, had been used to make Alemi’s fake university certificate.
The court heard that Alemi became a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 2003, passing part one of their exams after four attempts and part two after three attempts.
However, her membership was terminated within days of her forgeries coming to light, Stables said. The GMC withdrew her license to practice as a doctor in November 2018.
Alemi, of Burnley, Lancashire, denies 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.
The trial is expected to last several weeks.