Vet struck off for dishonest passport application claims he was ‘tricked’

  • A vet who was paid to dishonestly sign a declaration on a horse passport application, showing “blatant or wilful disregard” of the equine passporting system, has been struck off.

    The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) disciplinary committee has ruled that the actions of Vlad Butnaru, based in Folkestone, Kent, were “fundamentally incompatible with remaining on the register”.

    Dr Butnaru faces two charges: the first was that in May 2021, while he was in practice at DRBVM Ltd in Folkestone, he signed a passport and/or passport application for a horse called Best Catch (Joey) and electronically signed a declaration that he “had read the above microchip, which had previously been implanted for the animal”, when the chip had not been inserted into any horse, and he had not read that chip.

    The second charge stated that regarding the matters in the first charge, the signed declaration was false, that Dr Butnaru had acted dishonestly and misleadingly, he risked undermining procedures designed to promote animal welfare, and failed to take sufficient steps to ensure that the microchip number recorded for the horse was accurate.

    “Dr Butnaru admitted the first charge on all counts, and that the declaration he had signed was false,” an RCVS spokesman said. “He also admitted that his conduct was misleading and that he had failed to take sufficient steps to ensure that the microchip number recorded for the horse was accurate. However, he denied that his conduct had been dishonest and that he had risked undermining a procedure designed to promote animal welfare.”

    The RCVS’s case was that the chip could not have been inserted in any animal, as it was “later found sealed complete with its implanter, in its original packaging at the back of the passport issued for Joey”.

    The disciplinary committee heard that another vet, Dr Uppal, was asked to check Joey in July 2021, by someone who had recently bought him. This vet saw Dr Butnaru’s declaration, and found the sealed chip in the passport. He scanned the horse and found it had a chip with a different number to the one in, and referred to in, the passport.

    “As a result of this finding, and further inconsistencies between the age and markings recorded in the passport and those he noted, Dr Uppal formed the view that either the passport was incorrect or that it did not belong to the horse he was examining,” the RCVS committee report states. “Dr Uppal understood that, due to the inconsistencies between the passport and those found upon the examination of Joey, [the owner] returned the horse to the seller.”

    In response to an initial letter from the RCVS, Dr Butnaru said he always checked for microchips, and did so the day the horse was checked for a passport, and that he neither provided a false certificate nor falsely certified that the horse had a particular chip.

    In a witness statement last December, Dr Butnaru said it was an “honest mistake”, that he was “very upset this has happened” and that “I believe I was tricked”; he said when he saw the horse, his scanner did not pick up a chip so he told his client he would return with one and implant it. He said the client later told him he had found a chip, on the client’s own scanner, and video-called him to show the scanning and the chip number. Dr Butnaru said he accepted the video call as the client was coughing, and Dr Butnaru was concerned about Covid.

    “I realise and accept that I made a serious mistake in the declaration that I made for the horse passport application in this case and I should have made sure that I myself scanned the microchip myself,” Dr Butnaru said in his statement.

    “Dr Butnaru said he accepted the declaration he signed was false and misleading, but said that he was not trying to mislead anyone,” the committee report states. “However, he could now accept that it was misleading because the microchip 535 was not in the horse and that by signing the declaration it could be implied that he had scanned the microchip in Joey when he had not in fact done so. He also accepted that he had not done enough checks to identify Joey.

    “He said he had learned that it is easy to be cheated and he should not have trusted the WhatsApp video and he said he would not do it this way ever again. He said he had thought it was acceptable to do it this way on this occasion because of Covid and the fact that they had been carrying out remote consultations with small animals during the Covid period.”

    The RCVS spokesman said: “In respect of the parts of the charge that Dr Butnaru denied, the committee considered evidence from a number of witnesses, including testimonials as to Dr Butnaru’s good character. Having heard Dr Butnaru’s own evidence and his answers to questions, the committee noted in its decision that, as Dr Butnaru kept introducing new versions of what happened for the first time at the hearing and changed his account as he went along, as well as being evasive when answering questions, he could not be considered to be a reliable witness.

    “Therefore, while the committee did not know the true reason why Dr Butnaru was prepared to sign a false declaration on a passport application, it was satisfied that he had made a false declaration dishonestly. The committee also found that Dr Butnaru had failed to take sufficient steps to ensure that the microchip number recorded for the horse was accurate as, if the passport had been issued on a false premise because of misleading information provided by Dr Butnaru, then it could not function as it was meant to which, in the committee’s view, clearly risked undermining procedures designed to protect animal welfare.”

    The committee found “no mitigating factors at this stage”, but that aggravating factors were “found to be that Dr Butnaru had participated in premeditated misconduct, made financial gain from his actions as he was paid to make the false declaration, abused his professional position, and showed blatant or wilful disregard of the horse passport system and of the role of the RCVS and the systems that regulate the veterinary profession”.

    The committee found that all proven charges amounted to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect. It took into account that Dr Butnaru had no previous disciplinary history, showed “limited insight by admitting to some of the charges”, and “expressions of remorse”, and was provided with a positive testimonial.

    Paul Morris, chairing the committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “The committee was well aware of the impact and ramifications for Dr Butnaru of any decision to remove him from the register, but had to weigh his interests with those of the public.

    “In doing so it took account of the context and circumstances of the case, all matters of personal mitigation, Dr Butnaru’s previous unblemished record and the need to act proportionately. However, the committee was of the view that the need to uphold proper standards of conduct within the veterinary profession, together with the public interest in maintaining confidence in the profession of veterinary surgeons and protecting the welfare of animals, meant that a period of suspension would not be sufficient. His actions were fundamentally incompatible with remaining on the register and thus the only appropriate and proportionate sanction in all the circumstances of this case was that of removal from the register.”

    Dr Butnaru had 28 days from being told of his removal from the register to lodge an appeal.

    You might also be interested in:

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...