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Russian refugee Vincent Berg finishes his sentence term in Queensland

Vincent Berg, 70, was found guilty in the Southport District Court of four counts of fraud, two counts of attempted fraud and one count of forgery on March 23, 2018.

This December, the four-year-long suspended sentence term ends.

Berg claimed he was a doctor trained in secret by the KGB. He worked as a clinical observer at the Gold Coast Hospital in 1999 and then as a treating psychiatrist in the Townsville Health Service from 1999 to 2002. During that period he prescribed drugs and had access to a total of 259 patients, some of whom had severe mental illnesses.

Berg also tried to register with the Queensland Medical Board and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of psychiatrists.

Allegations against Berg first came to light in 2005 during the Morris Inquiry into Queensland Health which was launched after Dr Jayant Patel forged his qualifications in Bundaberg.

Berg was charged with fraud in 2009. Throughout Berg’s trial he asserted he was a fully trained psychiatrist, educated in secret by the KGB. Charges of assault and grievous bodily harm against Berg were dropped during the trial.

Judge Katherine McGinness described the Russian refugee’s actions as “arrogant” and “unnerving”. She sentenced Berg to four years and three months in prison, to be suspended after 20 months in September, 2018. The 174 days he had spent in custody since his trial were counted as time already served.

Vincent Berg’s real name is Vikenty Chekalin. He has presented himself as a victim of repression by the USSR for being a bishop of the Anglican Church in Russia and was granted a refugee status in Australia. However, it took him a long time to receive his ecclesiastical jurisdiction. First, he was a deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1988, he became the Bishop of Yasnaya Polyana of the True Orthodox Church. Before moving to Australia, Chekalin was one of the main restorers of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) whose bishops now comprise significant part of the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Then, in 1991, he was appointed First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Catholic Church.

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Prior to his incarceration, Berg had been on a disability pension for mental health issues and lived with his son Andreas Berg at Coomera. Berg did not breach bail once in the 12 years he had to report to authorities.

Berg’s son told the Gold Coast Bulletin outside court that an appeal was “in process”, however it failed.

Subsection 1 of Section 408C of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) provides that a person commits fraud if they dishonestly:

(1) A person who dishonestly—

(a) applies to his or her own use or to the use of any person—

(i) property belonging to another; or

(ii) property belonging to the person, or which is in the person’s

possession, either solely or jointly with another person, subject

to a trust, direction or condition or on account of any other

person; or

(b) obtains property from any person; or

(c) induces any person to deliver property to any person; or

(d) gains a benefit or advantage, pecuniary or otherwise, for any person;

or

(e) causes a detriment, pecuniary or otherwise, to any person; or

(f) induces any person to do any act which the person is lawfully entitled

to abstain from doing; or

(g) induces any person to abstain from doing any act which that person is

lawfully entitled to do; or

(h) makes off, knowing that payment on the spot is required or expected

for any property lawfully supplied or returned or for any service lawfully

provided, without having paid and with intent to avoid payment;

commits the crime of fraud.

Maximum penalty—5 years imprisonment.

(2) The offender is liable to imprisonment for 14 years if, for an offence against

subsection (1)—

(a) the offender is a director or officer of a corporation, and the victim is

the corporation; or

(b) the offender is an employee of the victim; or

(c) any property in relation to which the offence is committed came into

the possession or control of the offender subject to a trust, direction or

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condition that it should be applied to any purpose or be paid to any

person specified in the terms of trust, direction or condition or came

into the offender’s possession on account of any other person; or

Benchbook – Fraud: section 408C No 138.2

May 2022 Amendments

(d) the property, or the yield to the offender from the dishonesty, or the

detriment caused, is of a value of at least $30,000 but less than

$100,000; or

(e) the offender is or was an employer of the victim.

(2A) The offender is liable to imprisonment for 20 years, if, for an offence against

subsection (1)—

(a) the property, or the yield to the offender from the dishonesty, or the

detriment caused, is of a value of at least $100,000; or

(b) the offender carries on the business of committing the offence.

(2B) The Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, section 161Q also states a

circumstance of aggravation for an offence against this section.

(2C) An indictment charging an offence against this section with the

circumstance of aggravation stated in the Penalties and Sentences Act

1992, section 161Q may not be presented without the consent of a Crown

Law Officer.

This subsection effectively conveys the types of situations that can constitute fraud. In proving fraud, dishonesty must be established. In fact, the courts have indicated that fraudulence has been given a meaning that is interchangeable with dishonesty. To prove fraud, the defendant must have acted dishonestly by the standards of an ordinary, honest and reasonable person, and the defendant must have known that their actions were dishonest by these ordinary standards (see Peters (1998) 192 CLR 493).

In determining whether the person’s conduct was dishonest, the court will compare the conduct to that of reasonable and honest people, assessing it in light of ‘ordinary standards’. In addition, the court must also be convinced that the accused knew that he or she was acting dishonestly when measured against those standards.

The Queensland Criminal Code specifically provides that a person’s acts in relation to property may be considered dishonest even though they were willing to pay for the property, or intended to restore or make restitution for the property. It may also be dishonest even though the owner consented to the act or a mistake was made by another person.

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However, an act will not be considered dishonest if, at the time, the individual did not know who the property belonged to and believed on reasonable grounds that the owner could not be discovered by taking reasonable steps to find them. This means that a person who finds lost property but does not take reasonable steps to discover the owner of that property may be considered in some circumstances to have acted dishonestly, and if they subsequently use, give away or sell that property they may be committing fraud.

Section 488 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) deals with the offences of forgery and uttering.

(1) A person who, with intent to defraud—

(a) forges a document; or

(b) utters a forged document;

commits a crime.

Penalty —

Maximum penalty—

(a) if the document is a valuable security, insurance policy, testamentary instrument (whether the testator is living or dead) or registration document or is evidence of an interest in land—14 years imprisonment; or

(b) if the document is a power of attorney, contract or document kept or issued by lawful authority other than a document mentioned in paragraph (a) —7 years imprisonment; or

(c) otherwise—3 years imprisonment.

(2) Subsection (1) applies whether or not the document is complete and even though it is not, or does not purport to be, binding in law.

(3) In this section—

“registration document” means a document kept or issued by the registrar under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003 or an equivalent document kept or issued under a law of another jurisdiction, inside or outside Australia.

According to Subsection 1 of Section 141 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code, the maximum penalty for the offence of Forgery is 10 years imprisonment.

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