30 Sep 2010

Drug-smuggler who worked as psychiatrist jailed

8:29 pm on 30 September 2010

A convicted Nigerian drug-smuggler working as a psychiatrist for the Canterbury District Health Board has been jailed for 16 years for faking references and other immigration information.

Chidozie Emmanuel Onovo previously admitted three charges of fraud relating to work permits and a residency application relating to his position as a registrar of psychiatry at the DHB. He was sentenced at the Christchurch District Court on Wednesday.

Immigration New Zealand says Onovo presented a job offer from the DHB and seemingly credible documents which turned out to be forged to cover a period he was jailed in Britain after being convicted of smuggling cannabis.

In January 2009, Onovo arrived in New Zealand and was caught by immigration officials after applying for residency in January this year.

Onovo worked for more than a year at the DHB before being found out. He has not worked there since August.

The DHB says Onovo qualified as a doctor in Nigeria 14 years ago, performed his work competently in New Zealand and there were no concerns raised over the treatment of patients.

Canterbury DHB chief medical officer Nigel Millar says Onovo had worked in Ireland for five years, had a Certificate of Good Standing from the Irish Medical Council and had the correct qualifications to practice in New Zealand.

The district health board says it went through all processes and routine checks, with further checks made by the agency used to fill his position. However, the DHB says it is reviewing its procedures.

Medical Council reviewing other doctors

The Medical Council says the case has led it to review the papers of other Nigerian doctors in New Zealand.

It says Onovo presented paperwork showing he had passed exams in Ireland and neither his credentials as a doctor, nor any of the documents he relied on to gain registration, are in question.

However, the council says it has been aware for some time of problems surrounding him and reviewed the documentation of other Nigerian doctors whom Onovo knew.

Radio New Zealand National understands the council would have suspended Onovo if he had not been prosecuted.

The case follows a number of high-profile instances in which other people had faked documents for jobs, including that of Defence Force chief scientist Stephen Wilce and the former head of the Immigration Service Mary Anne Thompson.

Onovo's lawyer Errol Parsons told Nine to Noon he does not know whether his client is qualified as a psychiatrist.