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Students walk between buildings on UBC campus in Vancouver, B.C., on October 29, 2013.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

The University of British Columbia and the RCMP are investigating an alleged multimillion-dollar fraud involving the university's Faculty of Dentistry, The Globe and Mail has learned.

The investigation involves up to $5-million and centres on management of the faculty's general practice residency program, which trains a small number of post-graduate dentists from across the country each year and uses clinics in B.C. and abroad.

The details of the allegations have yet to be disclosed, but UBC confirmed some aspects of the investigation after being contacted by The Globe and Mail.

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Concerns surfaced last summer, when senior university administrators were alerted to "suspected financial irregularities involving the General Practice Residency program," UBC spokeswoman Lucie McNeill said in an e-mail.

"The university takes such allegations extremely seriously and UBC Internal Audit was immediately brought in to investigate," Ms. McNeill said. "After confirming the possibility of financial irregularities, UBC took steps in the fall to secure program funds and ensure continued delivery of dental services to patients in the [general practice residency] clinics."

Four clinics are listed as "community programs" on the GPR site, including the Skidegate Dental Clinic in Haida Gwaii, the Portland Community Clinic in Vancouver and clinics in Vietnam and Cambodia.

The audit work was complex, as it involved several sources of GPR funding, multiple clinics and "a large number of institutional and community partners," Ms. McNeill said.

UBC notified the RCMP of its concerns in February.

"We have opened up a fraud investigation," RCMP spokesman Sgt. Drew Grainger said in a recent interview. "We have not identified persons of interest yet. … We are just in the process of assessing the totality of these allegations and come up with a strategy to investigate it."

It has not yet been determined which RCMP divisions will handle the file, he said.

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The amount of money involved in the investigation is in the $4-million to $5-million range, Sgt. Grainger said.

"That's our initial assessment of the totality or the scope of the fraud that we are looking at," Sgt. Grainger said.

That represents an overall sum that could be at risk, but the amount misused or misappropriated or caught up in accounting errors is expected to be lower once an investigation is complete, Ms. McNeill said.

UBC has an operating budget of about $2-billion and about 15,000 faculty and staff, including about 80 in dentistry.

The faculty is planning several high-profile events to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.

Residents in UBC's general practice residency program can hold appointments at one of three UBC teaching hospitals: the B.C. Cancer Agency, B.C. Children's Hospital and Vancouver General Hospital.

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There appears to be at least one link between those institutions and the UBC fraud investigation.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, the Vancouver Coastal Health authority – which oversees Vancouver General Hospital – on Wednesday released an "audit and finance committee board summary sheet" dated Dec. 10, 2013, that referred to "VGH Dental Clinic Irregularities" and an ongoing investigation.

The rest of the two-page document was blacked out under provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that allow advice or recommendations to be withheld.

In 2010, UBC adopted a data analytic tool that helped uncover a fraudulent cheque scheme.

In April, its board of governors approved a new internal audit, investigations and financial whistle-blower policy that protects all UBC members, including faculty, staff and students. The old policy covered only UBC employees.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More


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