In the UK, some anonymous online gambling companies made a promise to refund at least £900,000 which is equivalent to $1.2 million of stolen money from the National Health Service which was previously used by a criminal doctor as a wager fund for his gambling activities.
A 45-year old senior general practitioner named Dr. Rumi Chhapia, was convicted to three years and four months in prison by the court of justice in Portsmouth, England last week. Chhapia was declared guilty of extracting a total amount of £1.2 million equivalent to US $1.5 million from a group of doctors in the Portsmouth Primary Care Association (PPCA), which he also co-managed.
Chhapia stole the funds during a process of what he called “six weeks of madness”, stated by his legal representative. During that time, he was appointed as a temporary manager of the bank accounts of the organization while the official financial manager was on sick leave.
The doctor, who was earning at least £200,000 or US $270,000 annually, wired the money into online casinos, where he played incessantly on slot games, poker and roulettes.
The court hearing declared the fraud as “relatively unsophisticated” and stated that the medical practitioner did not even conceal his behavior. Chhapia simply sent the money into the bank accounts using his own name.
When one of his colleagues knew that the money was missing from the accounts, he told them that the PPCA was looted by cybercriminals. Despite being almost caught, he continued to steal from the bank accounts.
“You violated the confidence put in you by taking £1.13 million from the PPCA, money that, in my opinion, should have gone to GP practices to expand their services,” Judge Keith Cutler said during the sentencing hearing.
“This is a grave breach of your professional obligations as a doctor. Your first responsibility should have been to offer the finest possible treatment for your patients. However, you were deceitful,” Cutler continued.
According to the court documents, Chhapia, who is a family man and a father of one, has shown remorse for his actions, and while being transferred to the prisons, he kept on weeping while continuing to say, “I messed up”.
Obliged to Repay
Stan Reiz QC, the defense attorney, said that Chhapia himself called the online casinos after his arrest begging them to help him to set things right. The companies all agreed to refund all of the money he has stolen. Chhapia then returned the remaining £238,000 ($322,000) balance.
According to UK law, gambling companies do not commit the crime of handling stolen money unless they knew that the funds came from illegal activities. This means that they are not necessarily required to return the stolen cash.
Although, according to the Proceeds of Crime Act of 2002, gambling operators are required to inquire their clients about the origins of the money they are using for wagers especially if they are of huge amounts. This is to prevent the gambling operators from being an accessory to the crime in case these funds came from illegal activities.
According to the UK Gambling Commission, if proven to have violated the law, they could’ve been fined or their license revoked for the money that Chhapia have stolen.
The lawmakers in the UK are now reviewing the Gambling Act for possible loopholes just like this. As for the moment, gambling operators are now avoiding bad publicity caused by being associated with these crimes, whereas they could’ve prevented situations like this if they were more aware of the law.