A “popular and respected” doctor in the English town of Portsmouth has been jailed for more than three years after embezzling over £1million to fund his online gambling habit.
45-year-old Rumi Chhapia made 65 transfers totalling £1,133,704.50 to himself from a healthcare fund over a 41-day period in 2020, using the money to pay off his debts playing slot machines and roulette.
The money was taken from Portsmouth Primary Care Alliance Limited (PPCA), a collection of GP practices that Dr. Chhapia helped to found.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard that father-of-one Chhapia gambled more than £2.5 million online, winning back only $1.2million.
Matthew Lawson, prosecuting, stated that the well-respected doctor “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.”
The defendant, described by the judge as “a man of good character”, was a director of the PPCA and accessed the funds unhindered during “six weeks of madness” when a colleague was signed off sick.
Mr. Lawson stated, however, that Chhapia – who has a previous conviction for drink driving – had continued to steal money even after being confronted by colleagues.
He revealed in court:
“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.”
Stan Reiz QC, defending, told the court that Dr. Chhapia was
“… a hard-working, honest and talented doctor who has behaved in a manner which is wholly out of character for him.”
Claiming it was “not a fall from grace but a product of a perfect storm,” Reiz continued:
“He suffered from financial difficulties which was compounded by the Covid pandemic and this was augmented by his gambling disorder, which was not diagnosed at the time but is now.”
The court heard from Mr. Reiz that:
“Dr. Chhapia 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.”
The defence QC also stated:
“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.”
Dr. Chhapia repaid £238,000 of the stolen funds himself, and was said to have contacted the online gambling firms involved, which led to the remaining £900,000 being refunded to the PPCA.
Judge Keith Cutler said of Chhapia’s crime:
“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.” Sentencing Chhapia to three years and four months in prison for fraud by abuse of position, Judge Cutler stated: “You were seduced by your addiction to gambling. 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.”
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