For the profiteers, it was a transaction like any other trade – cash for goods – except that it involved sacrificing a part of the human body.
The clientele is cash-rich, comprising mainly Israelis and Europeans. Most of these “donors” were taken to Israel to sell their kidneys.
Carried out in private clinics under the cover of medical tourism, the illegal surgeries promised quick money for the ring in Costa Rica, a cheap medical destination to thousands of foreigners. It was reported that some wealthy European clients were willing to pay as high as USD100,000 for an organ.
Leading the ring was Dr Mora Palma, former head of nephrology at the Calderón Guardia, one of Costa Rica’s main state hospitals. His three accomplices – Massimiliano Anunzia Mauro Stamati, Fabian Fonseca Guzmán and Victor Hugo Monge – were affiliated with the Costa Rican Social Security Agency (CCSS), which runs the country’s public healthcare system. Katsigiannis Karkasi, a Greek businessman, assists in seeking out donors.
Investigations by the Costa Rican Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ) and Public Security Ministry, which began in 2009, have uncovered 14 illegal kidney transplants.
Most cases involved kidneys, and the procedures were carried out at state facilities run by the CCSS. Some of these individuals who sold their organs woke up to the grim reality of not just having lost an organ but also living with perpetual health problems.
The five suspects were arrested in 2013 and now begin trial in San José, which is expected to run through 30 November.
Illegal ring preyed on individuals desperate for cashMora Palma is alleged to have sought out foreign clients in need of kidney transplants, and matched them with financially-plagued Costa Ricans who were desperate for cash. Besides co-ordinating the extractions and transplant surgeries, Mora Palma also interviewed “potential donors” and financed the tests to confirm compatibility with the organ recipient.
Apart from organ trafficking, he faces charges of embezzlement against the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social – Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS) to perform tests necessary for transplants.
The doctors – Stamati, a urologist, Guzmán, a surgeon who specialised in urology, and Monge, a surgeon – allegedly performed the transplant surgeries in two private hospitals in the capital.
Karkasi, a Greek businessman and owner of a pizzeria near the Calderon Guardia Hospital, helped to recruit low-income individuals and facilitated the organ transaction with prospective clients.
Prosecutors expect 25 witnesses to testify in court, which includes a former policewoman who started working for the ring after selling her own kidney.
Mora Plama was released with bail, and the other four released with restraining orders.
If convicted, the pizzeria owner could face six to 10 years of imprisonment, while the doctors could be slapped with eight to 16 years behind bars as theirs involved the abuse of their professional status to commit a crime. MIMS
Discovering the powerful role of healthcare industry in combating human trafficking
Human organ trafficking: An epidemic beyond control
Jakarta police investigate human organ trade syndicate in hospitals
Retracted study puts China's efforts of organ transplant reform in the spotlight