The RCVS Disciplinary Committee has warned and reprimanded a veterinary surgeon after she was convicted in Romania of unlawfully obtaining funds from the EU for a bee-keeping enterprise, by providing false, incomplete or inaccurate documents and statements.
The hearing for Dr Claudia Elena Surdila was held between 9 and 10 March 2022. Ms Nicole Curtis, representing the College, submitted that in December 2019, while Dr Surdila was a registered veterinary surgeon, she pleaded guilty to the offence referred to above. Ms Curtis submitted that Dr Surdila was still a student when she committed the offence and had reported the conviction to the College and provided paperwork from the hearing.
The Committee was presented with an email and a statement from Dr Surdila which outlined her account of what led to her conviction. Dr Surdila explained that she and her family owned a few beehives and applied for EU funding to help expand their operation into a business. A requirement of the funding was that Dr Surdila and her sister had to belong to a licensed bee-keeping co-operative; they paid a consultant to manage their funding application, which included signing them up to their local co-operative. Dr Surdila acknowledged that she had signed what was asked of her throughout her involvement in the scheme and regretted not looking at the paperwork more thoroughly.
Dr Surdila and her sister continued with the business until they gave notice on the scheme after three years (the funding period was intended to be five years) to concentrate on their studies. During this period, they had also endured a harsh winter and many of their bees had not survived. Dr Surdila then moved to the UK and joined a practice in Motherwell, Scotland. After she had been in the UK for four years, Dr Surdila was informed that she and her sister were to be prosecuted by the National Department of Anti-Corruption for claiming EU funds when not entitled to do so. She was informed that during their participation in the scheme, their membership had been switched to a co-op owned by another party who turned out to be unlicensed which rendered her funding applications invalid from the outset. Everyone who had received funding through the unlicensed co-operative had also been prosecuted.
Dr Surdila stated that everything she had signed for the unlicensed co-op had been signed in good faith, but she was advised by her lawyer that as she had signed legally binding documents for the funding, and that as the consultant she worked with had since passed away, her only option was to plead guilty. She was sentenced to two years imprisonment, suspended for two years, and 60 days of community service and was required to pay 19,544.7 Romanian Lei (approximately £3,300) in damages. Her lawyer advised her to appeal her sentence which was harsh considering the circumstances. However, the appeal was postponed several times because of Covid-19 and was ultimately unsuccessful.
In concluding whether the conviction rendered Dr Surdila unfit to practise, Mrs Judith Way, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “Dr Surdila’s conviction was of a nature and seriousness that required a finding that she was unfit to practise as a veterinary surgeon on public interest grounds”.
The Committee then turned to sanction and in reaching its decision, Mrs Way stated that: “This was a serious conviction with a significant sentence, involving an element of bad faith. The Committee considered it important to mark this behaviour in some way because Dr Surdila should have been more cognisant of what she was signing.
“The Committee noted that her offending behaviour took place a significantly long time ago, when Dr Surdila was young and inexperienced and before she had qualified as a veterinary surgeon. There had never been a risk to animals or the public, she had demonstrated significant insight into her failures and exhibited genuine remorse. The Committee was satisfied that it was highly unlikely she would ever commit such an offence again.
“In light of the lack of aggravating factors and the extensive mitigation in this case, the Committee concluded that it was appropriate and proportionate to reprimand Dr Surdila and to warn her of the need to ensure she reads and understands all documents that require her signature.”
The Committee’s full findings can be viewed at www.rcvs.org.uk/disciplinary