‘Beggars belief’: Pharmacist loses bid for reinstatement


A tribunal has found a pharmacist and wholesaler who purchased and supplied counterfeit sildenafil has not proven “real insight into his conduct”

Mr Mina Attia, who in December 2016 was struck off as a pharmacist for introducing counterfeit Viagra into the Sydney pharmaceutical market, has had his bid for reinstatement rejected.

The discovery was made in June 2010 by a pharmacy technician working at the Sydney Children’s Hospital, who was crushing Viagra tablets for paediatric patients to use in the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension.

In its subsequent investigations, the TGA traced the supply of the tablets to a licensed wholesaler called Hillmear Trading, which in turn had purchased the tablets from a Mr Sajay Rai.

At the time of the distribution of the counterfeit medication, pharmacist Mr Attia was the sole director of Hillmear.

The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal found that Mr Rai was not licensed to supply restricted substances and that Mr Attia, in breach of his pharmaceutical wholesaler’s licence, had failed to ensure the purchased product was genuine.

During the course of investigations conducted by both the TGA and Pfizer, Mr Attia was found to have provided false and misleading information into the distribution of the counterfeit drugs.

The Tribunal concluded that Mr Attia was guilty of professional misconduct and ordered his registration as a pharmacist be cancelled.

In a recent bid for reinstatement of his registration, Mr Attia argued that he understood the impact of his actions.

He told the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal that he had “been affected by my actions to no limits. My career has been tarnished and ruined.”

Mr Attia said: “I admit I should have been more careful in my purchasing decisions as a director of a wholesaling company and being a registered pharmacist at the same time.

“I regret making an uncalculated nor thoroughly examined decisions in the past. I totally take responsibility for my actions that caused these events to occur.”

He said that “any small mistake can cost you everything you have ever worked hard for.”

Mr Attia also explained that he had become deeply involved in religious studies and the establishment of a Christian ministry.

The Tribunal took umbrage with Mr Attia’s characterisation of his conduct as a “small mistake”.

“Such a characterisation denies the risk to the health and safety of the public and in particular to paediatric patients associated with the supply of a restricted medicine which is counterfeit,” said the Tribunal.

“The professional misconduct which gave rise to the cancellation of the applicant’s registration was of a most serious kind.”

The Tribunal heard that as a result of its decision to revoke his registration, Mr Attia had had to sell assets and all of his pharmacies, as well as his house in order to pay debt.

However in cross examination, Mr Attia explained he had been forced to sell the family home for $9.5 million, downgrading for a property for a purchase price of $3.1 million.

“These amounts are inconsistent with the impression which we had gained from reading the applicant’s affidavit without recourse to his oral evidence to the effect that he was in relatively impoverished circumstances as a result of disposing of his interest in a number of pharmacies and closing down his wholesaling business,” said the Tribunal.

Mr Attia continues to operate the ShopSmart Wholesale Pharmacy franchise group, which he has done since 2010.

While he had sold five pharmacies and closed the Hillmear business in late 2011, he remains involved with the five pharmacies and a further three through the franchising operation of his company.

Mr Attia receives distributions from the franchise operations in the vicinity of $50,000-$60,000 per month, according to evidence provided to the Tribunal.

While he provided eight character references in support of his application, the Tribunal decided it was unable to rely on the evidence as none of the referees made mention of Mr Attia’s “less than honest” dealings with the TGA investigators and only referred to the supply of counterfeit Viagra.

In reviewing evidence provided by Mr Attia, the Tribunal said it did “not find any reference to introspection and insight into, or contrition or remorse for the events which occurred in 2010.”

“It beggars belief that a careful, prudent and thoughtful person trading as a pharmaceutical wholesaler would buy a restricted substance from someone who was conducting his operations from the back of a van,” the Tribunal stated.

“It also beggars belief that the applicant would not have exercised some caution in taking steps to verify the validity of that product.

“We are concerned, overall, that the applicant has not manifested real insight into his conduct and what caused him to behave in this way.

“Without sufficient insight it is difficult to conclude that it is unlikely that the applicant will again engage in behaviour of this kind.”

It dismissed Mr Attia’s application to review the cancellation of his registration.

He may not apply for this order to be reviewed until after a period of 12 months, from 14 August 2018.

The Tribunal also ordered that costs be paid to the Health Care Complaints Commission.

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