Doctors jailed for IVF drug scam

Jail sentences for the former director of the gynecology and maternity clinic at the University Hospital of Patra and his assistant were upheld yesterday when an appeals court in the western city ruled that the two ex-doctors had illegally prescribed in vitro fertilization (IVF) drugs to patients who did not need them. Vassilis Tsigounis, the former clinic director, was handed a sentence of 10 years and five months, while his assistant at the time, Thanassis Pappas, was jailed for 12 years and five months. Tsigounis was found guilty of being an accomplice to fraud and forgery. Pappas was convicted of fraud and forgery. Both men were handed slightly lengthier prison sentences in the initial trial two years ago. Nevertheless, it is rare for corrupt doctors to be given actual prison sentences. The two doctors were charged after the TEVE pension fund began an investigation in 2001 when inspectors noticed that the number of prescriptions surfacing in Patra for a particular drug shot up dramatically. The court heard that the scam cost the Greek state 430,000 euros. Tsigounis and Pappas have been ordered to repay this money to the pension fund. Eight years ago, when the probe into the scam prescriptions had just begun, Pappas became the subject of an internal investigation after he was beaten up by the relative of one of the patients he was treating. It soon emerged that Pappas was not a member of the Medical Association and that he did not have a license to practice medicine. Also, he was not employed by the University Hospital of Patra, even though he had been working there since 1997. At the time, Tsigounis explained Pappas’s presence as his assistant by claiming that he had been hired as the doctor’s researcher. In 2004, Tsigounis was suspended from duty and, several months later, his doctor’s license was revoked. His lawyers insisted yesterday that he had not profited from the issuing of false prescriptions but had simply gone along with Pappas’s scam.