Doctor goes online to save face
DURBAN socialite and dermatologist Dr Anez Awath-Behari has turned to Facebook to repair her reputation after being arrested for allegedly defrauding two medical aid schemes of R3.5-million.
On Monday, the flashy Awath-Behari, 38, and her ex-husband, general practitioner Dr Mahendra Pramchand, 42, were charged with 266 counts of fraud in the Commercial Crimes Court in Durban over the treatment of, among others, "depressed" police members. They were released on R60000 bail each.
According to court papers, they allegedly defrauded Pol-med - a medical scheme exclusively for SAPS members - and Bonitas between June 2007 and January 2008.
Awath-Behari's clients include Durban's wealthiest.
She claims on her Facebook page that she supports various charities and regularly treated cash-strapped patients for free.
She wrote: "I am devastated ... you give to charity your whole life, you never charge patients when it is difficult to pay. And to think that I want more money? If anybody knows me, it's never been the money."
She owns a fleet of cars, including a R3.5-million Lamborghini - featured just months ago in the Sunday Times - and a BMW X6 estimated to be worth R1-million.
She said at the time that Pramchand, who the Sunday Times has established has no listed business interests, splashed out on the BMW X6 as a surprise gift and "family car" in April last year.
In a recent feature published in a Durban-based online newspaper, The Indian Sun, she said when she met Pramchand during her fourth year of medical school: "He was all about the social life, the party, the friends and he just seemed like such a fun person to be around."
In the interview with the Sunday Times, she said she bought her canary-yellow Lamborghini in 2008, as she had a "soft spot" for all things Italian. "I didn't even test-drive other cars before I got this. I was set on having it. It definitely gets noticed."
This week, she was described by friends and associates as a "private person" who enjoyed throwing lavish parties in her R6.8-million sea-facing apartment in Umhlanga . Said one: "It's the newspapers who have made her famous. She's a private person otherwise."
Other residents in the upmarket high-rise apartment block, The Pearls, include filmmaker Leon Schuster, corporate power-broker Fani Titi and businessman Vivian Reddy.
Awath-Behari's apartment is registered under her company, Inhle Accommodation.
Deeds records reveal that almost all the couple's assets and businesses - including a rehabilitation facility for alcohol and drug abuse, Prydon Clinic, in Phoenix and Umhlanga - are registered under Awath-Behari.
According to court papers, investigations into the couple's medical practices began in March 2009 after a whistle-blower alerted Polmed that they allegedly submitted fraudulent claims.
It is alleged that although members of Polmed and Bonitas were referred to Prydon Clinic for depression and substance-abuse treatment for periods of up to 21 days, none were ever admitted.
According to the court papers: "The investigation revealed that Dr Pramchand managed Prydon Clinic and consulted with patients."
An employee of the clinic in Phoenix said the couple had been advised by their legal team not to talk to the media.
"The truth will come out," she said.
This week, responding to messages of support on Facebook, Awath-Behari wrote: "Never in my life did I expect to have to prove my integrity and credibility. Unfortunately I am the owner of the clinic."