Perth fashionista guilty of $163k boss theft

Chaynika Sethi leaves the District Court. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian
Chaynika Sethi leaves the District Court. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

A PERTH fashion designer has been found guilty of stealing almost $163,000 from her former employer and warned it is inevitable she will face jail time.

Chaynika Sethi went on trial in the District Court of WA this week, charged with 98 counts of stealing as a servant.

The mother of two worked part-time for a decade as a practice manager at a Maylands physiotherapy clinic while building up her fashion label and was trusted with paying expenses and distributing wages.

But after eight years of service, she plundered the clinic’s main transaction account, transferring cash into her own over a 21-month period.

Prosecutor Sarah Kavanagh said Sethi was under financial stress with maxed-out credits cards, personal loans and a mortgage, and may have been able to justify the thefts to herself because business owner Arran McDiven appeared well-off.

The court heard, however, Mr McDiven had his own financial troubles that forced him to sell a new house, move into a rental property and shift his children from private to public school.

When he told her about that in December 2017, she looked shocked, Mr McDiven testified earlier this week.

Ms Kavanagh said Sethi felt guilty so she secretly paid some money back by using her own cash for office bills but stole from him again the following month.

“She started and she just couldn’t stop,” the prosecutor said in her closing address on Thursday.

In February 2018, Mr McDiven noticed an unusually large payment had been made from the company’s transaction account and discovered it had gone into Sethi’s.

She tearfully confessed when he confronted her and agreed to pay back the cash, mainly through her father in India, so he kept her on staff.

Five weeks later when she had had reimbursed almost $100,000 – but failed to get a loan to pay back the rest – he suggested she sell her house and she responded angrily, threatening to ruin his reputation.

Sethi claimed at trial she didn’t steal the $162,805, saying it was put into her bank account by Mr McDiven, who squeezed her breast during a physiotherapy session then promised to pay her $200,000 in hush money.

Mr Kavanagh labelled the claims “a complete fabrication”.

Sethi was on Thursday convicted of all 98 counts and warned by Judge Christopher Stevenson a custodial sentence was inevitable.

He granted her bail ahead of sentencing next week, mainly so she can make arrangements for her two young children, and ordered her to surrender her passport.

Defence counsel Sean O’Sullivan said his client would repay Mr McDiven in the meantime.