A senior GP was today jailed for three years and four months after stealing a staggering £1.1million of money to fund his ‘desperate’ addiction to online gambling.
Rumi Chhapia, 45, was a ‘popular and respected’ doctor before he stole the funds from a healthcare group in 65 transfers over a 41-day period in 2020, to pay off his debts playing slot online machines and roulette.
The money was taken from Portsmouth Primary Care Alliance Limited (PPCA), a healthcare group he founded, a collection of GP practices in and around the Hampshire city, whose role included tendering out-of-hour GP services.
The crooked family doctor defrauded the group of GP surgeries immediately after being put in charge of its accounts, leaving its finances in disarray and other directors needing therapy.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard he gambled away a total of £2.5million, of which he regained £1.2million of his losses.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard that senior GP Dr Rumi Chhapia embezzled a staggering £1.13million from PPCA, a healthcare group he founded, immediately after being put in charge of the accounts
In August last year, Mark Stubbings, who was in charge of PPCA’s finances, was signed off sick and Chhapia volunteered to be director and manage its accounts.
But Mr Stubbings kept a ‘watching brief’ and raised the alarm when he saw its £1 million account was reduced by £600,000, prosecutor Matthew Lawson said.
Chhapia was confronted but claimed he was the victim of cyber crime and continued to embezzle money.
The GP told Mr Stubbings: ‘It’s fraud, all my accounts have been hacked, my Amazon and my PayPal.’
He promised no more PPCA money would be transferred, yet continued to do so and from August 20 to September 30 last year he embezzled £1,133,704.50.
Police investigated and Chhapia admitted, ‘I f****d up’.
His fraud was described as ‘relatively unsophisticated’ as he transferred into accounts in his own name.
Of the £1.13 million he embezzled, he paid back £238,000 and gambling companies will pay back £904,000.
All money made by PPCA goes into developing its 16 GP surgeries.
Judge Keith Cutler, sentencing Chhapia for fraud by abuse of position, said: ‘You abused the trust placed on you and took £1.1 million from the PPCA, money which should have been for GP surgeries to develop their services.
‘This is a very serious abrogation of your responsibilities as a doctor.
‘Your duty as a GP should have been to provide the very best of care to your patients, that should have been the pinnacle of your care, but you were dishonest.
‘You were seduced by your addiction to gambling.’
He added: ‘You are a man of good character, you have excellent references, you are a GP who has such skills and abilities that people have written to me, and you have shown your expertise time and time again and you are a popular and respected doctor.
‘The last thing a judge wants to do is to send a man such as you, a doctor with such skills and abilities, to prison.’
Matthew Lawson, prosecuting, told the court that Chhapia, from Southsea, stole a total of £1,133,704.50.
Mr Lawson said: ‘He made a full confession to taking the money from the PPCA.
‘He had run into financial trouble and tried to repair his finances through online gambling but only proceeded to lose more.’
He said the defendant had been able to access the funds unhindered when a colleague was signed off sick.
He said Chhapia had even carried on stealing the money after being confronted by colleagues.
Mr Lawson added: ‘His gambling addiction escalated, he had remortgaged his property, lost his car, but, unable to cover his debts to family and friends, he used the opportunity to transfer the money to his own account to pay for slot machines and roulette.’
A statement from the PPCA read to the court said staff had needed counselling and the people of Portsmouth had ‘lost a chunk of NHS money which could have been used to benefit their care’.
Mr Lawson added that any negotiations with the gambling companies led to them refunding the remaining £900,004 of the stolen money.
This means the PPCA should be refunded all of the funds taken by Chhapia, who had a previous conviction for drink-driving.
Defending Chhapia, Stan Reiz QC, said it was ‘six weeks of madness’.
He said: ‘He is a hard-working, honest and talented doctor who has behaved in manner which is wholly out of character for him, this is not a fall from grace but a product of a perfect storm.
Judge Keith Cutler, sentencing Chhapia at Portsmouth Crown Court for fraud by abuse of position, said: ‘You abused the trust placed on you and took £1.1 million from the PPCA, money which should have been for GP surgeries to develop their services’
‘This is an unusual and tragic case.
The references from his esteemed colleagues describe a hard working and honest man who has acted wholly out of character.
‘He suffered from financial difficulties which was compounded by the Covid pandemic.
‘This was augmented by his gambling disorder, which was not diagnosed at the time but is now.
‘He is deeply remorseful for the pain he has caused and takes full responsibility for his wrongdoing.
‘He has embarrassed the company he built from the ground up and himself for six weeks of madness.
‘He was under the delusional impression that he would win, fed by his addiction he felt he was one win away.
‘The situation he found himself in was desperate, the only way he could see to repay the money was to gamble more.’
Mr Reiz added that Chhapia had approached the gambling firms himself and arranged for them to repay the money by saying it had been the proceeds of crime.
The 45 year old, who earned nearly £200,000 a year, lied to suspicious colleagues that he was ‘hacked’ due to cyber crime as he made a total of 65 transfers to his own bank account.
He said that Chhapia, who has twice caught Covid, had continued to work in A&E following his arrest and said: ‘During the second wave of the pandemic he was working in a hospital on the Isle of Wight and his conduct was described by some of his colleagues as excellent.’
Judge Keith Cutler added: ‘You abused the trust placed on you and took £1.13 million from the PPCA, money which in my judgement should have been for GP surgeries to develop their services.
‘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.
‘In any event you were seduced by your addiction by your addiction to gambling and it was not just a one off.’
Judge Cutler said each time Chhapia transferred money he ‘must have thought ‘I should not be doing this’.’
He criticised the doctor for ‘fobbing off’ colleagues with lies and said the damage caused was ‘significant’ financially.
Chhapia, of Portsmouth, resigned from his role in October last year and admitted fraud by abuse of position.