Organ traffic arrests

Turkish doctor arrested over organ traffic allegations

Organs were allegedly illegally removed from victims and transplanted into wealthy recipients


Haroon Siddique, Wednesday 12 January 2011

A Turkish doctor suspected of carrying out dozens of operations as part of an alleged international network involved in the trafficking of human organs in Kosovo was arrested yesterday, Turkish media reported.

Yusuf Sonmez, 53, is among at least nine people indicted in Kosovo in a case centering on a clinic in the Kosovan capital Pristina where organs were allegedly illegally removed from victims and transplanted into wealthy recipients.

EU prosecutor Jonathan Ratel says poor people were lured to Pristina “with the false promise of payments” for their kidneys and patients from Canada, Germany, Poland and Israel paid up to €90,000 (£76,400) for the black-market kidneys. Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 has struggled to shake off organised crime and corruption under international supervision.

Sonmez was detained after Interpol issued a notice requesting his arrest on the basis of a warrant issued by the district court in Pristina that charges him with people smuggling and illegal immigration. Kristiina Herodes, spokeswoman for European Union police in Kosovo, welcomed Sonmez’s arrest but said it was too early to comment on whether he would be extradited.

Herodes said that the EU prosecutor’s team was working closely with Turkish judicial authorities on parallel investigations in Kosovo and Turkey.

Ratel described Sonmez as a “key surgical participant” in operations at the clinic, known as Medicus. The judge has less than two weeks to decide if the case will move to a trial. Kosovo’s justice authorities are monitored by an EU mission that also deals with serious crimes.

The doctor has previously been arrested in Turkey on suspicion of illegally procuring kidneys from destitute Turks and transplanting them to patients for large profits, according to Turkish media. Most organ recipients were from other countries.

He dodged any extensive prison term by producing documents from donors attesting that no money was ever exchanged, Vatan newspaper quoted Ilhan Dogan, a former health ministry inspector, as saying. Because the rate of organ donation is low, Turkish law allows people who are not blood relatives to donate their kidneys to needy patients as long as no money changes hands. Doctors have to refuse transplants if they suspect any transaction.

In statements posted on his website, Sonmez claims he was unfairly hounded by the Turkish media, and denied any wrongdoing in the Kosovo case.

“I am being shown as the biggest criminal and even the leader of a criminal gang,” he wrote. “If I am the gang leader, where are my men?”

In a Council of Europe report last month, the clinic Medicus was linked to a wider network of Albanian organised criminals with close links to senior officials in Kosovo’s government, including the prime minister, Hashim Thaçi. Thaçi denied the claims and called for an independent investigation into them.

Moshe Harrel, an Israeli said to have matched donors with recipients and co-accused of Sonmez, is also being sought by Interpol.

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