Several unnamed online gambling companies in the UK will repay more than £900,000 ($1.2 million) in public money, stolen and gambled away by a rogue doctor from the country’s National Health Service.
Senior general practitioner Dr Rumi Chhapia, 45, was sentenced to three years and four months in prison by a court in Portsmouth, England last week. Chhapia pleaded guilty to siphoning a total of £1.2 million ($1.5 million) from a network of doctors’ surgeries, the Portsmouth Primary Care Association (PPCA), which he co-founded.
Chhapia stole the money during “six weeks of madness,” according to his lawyer. At the time, he had been placed in control of the organization’s accounts when the regular financial controller was signed off sick.
The physician, who earned £200,000 ($270,000) a year, plowed the cash into online gambling sites, chasing jackpots on slot machines and big wins on roulette.
The court heard the fraud was “relatively unsophisticated.” Chhapia simply transferred the money into bank accounts in his own name.
When a colleague realized money was missing from the accounts, Chhapia claimed PPCA had been defrauded by cybercriminals. But even after this, he continued siphoning money from the accounts.
“I f****d up,” he told police after his arrest, according to court documents.
You abused the trust placed on you and took £1.13 million from the PPCA, money which in my judgment should have been for GP surgeries to develop their services,” said Judge Keith Cutler, sentencing.
“This is a very serious abrogation of your responsibilities as a doctor. Your duty should have been to provide the very best care to your patients and that should have been the pinnacle, but you were dishonest,” Cutler added.
The father of one wept as he was led to the cells.
Obligation to Repay
According to the defense lawyer, Stan Reiz QC, a remorseful Chhapia contacted the online gambling companies after his arrest to ask them to help him make amends. They agreed to repay all the money he had lost. Chhapia himself returned the £238,000 ($322,000) he had remaining.
Under UK law, gambling operators do not commit an offense by handling stolen funds unless they are aware they are the proceeds of crime. That means they are not necessarily obligated to return the money.
However, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 places an obligation on operators to be alert to attempts by customers to gamble money acquired unlawfully.
UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) rules require them to inquire about the source of funds in the case of large transactions. They must also monitor customer behavior that could indicate problem gambling and even instigate interventions.
If they were found to have failed in this regard, they could have been fined by the UKGC for the amount Chhapia lost or even be threatened with license revocation.
UK lawmakers have embarked on a review of the Gambling Act that is expected to tighten regulations on the industry. In the meantime, operators are anxious to avoid bad press and regulatory scrutiny at a time when the UK media is hungry for negative stories about gambling operators.
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