Five doctors in Kosovo have been found guilty of involvement in an international organ trafficking ring that made huge profits from the sale of illegally harvested kidneys.
An European Union-led court in the Kosovo capital of Pristina handed down jail sentences ranging from eight years to one year suspended to the gang members for removing around 30 kidneys from victims.
Enticing poor people from Eastern Europe and Central Asia with the promise of up to the equivalent of £12,500 for a kidney, the victims were often abandoned after the operation without being paid. Meanwhile, the gang cashed in on their organs by selling them on the international black market for as much as £100,000.
The case came to light in 2008 after a Turkish man who had had his kidney removed collapsed at Pristina airport while waiting for a flight home.
Lutfi Dervishi, a prominent urologist in the Kosovo capital, was sentenced to eight years in jail and fined £8,000 for his lead role in the international operation that was centred around his Medicus clinic in Pristina. His son, Arban, received a seven-year sentence.
Sokol Hajdini, the clinic’s chief anaesthetist, will spend three years behind bars, while two others received suspended sentences.
Iliar Rrecaj, a leading official with the Kosovo health ministry, was acquitted.
The trial, which began in 2011 and had a panel of international judges, was organised by Eulex, Europe’s rule of law mission to Kosovo, owing to the republic’s weak legal and judicial system.
Judge Dean Pineles told the court: “The victims were left alone, did not speak the local language, were uncertain of what they were doing and had no-one to protect their interests.”
Jonathan Ratel, the lead prosecutor, said the “single motivating factor behind this enterprise was the opportunity to get the obscene profits available in the black market organ trade”.
However, two men that the court claimed were at the heart of the trafficking operation are still at large.
Warrants have been issued for the arrest of Dr Yusuf Sonmez, a Turkish surgeon accused of carrying out the illegal operations at the Medicus clinic, and Moshe Harel, an Israeli described by the court’s indictment as the gang’s “key recruiter and fixer”.
The case and convictions give credence to allegations of widespread organ trafficking surrounding the Balkan republic, which was racked by insecurity and violence in the 1990s.
In 2011, Dick Marty, the Council of Europe’s rapporteur on alleged organ trafficking during the 1998-99 Kosovo war, said he believed there were “credible, convergent indications” that the Medicus case was linked to trafficking in organs taken forcibly from Serb prisoners seized by ethnic Albanian Kosovar Liberation Army during the conflict.
An EU task force charged with investigating the claims is expected to file a report next year.