NPO Head Pleads Not Guilty Over Organ Transplants in Belarus

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Hiromichi Kikuchi is seen in Tokyo before being transferred to prosecutors on Feb. 9.

The director of a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization, who has been accused of arranging organ transplants in Belarus for Japanese patients, pleaded not guilty at the Tokyo District Court on Friday.

Hiromichi Kikuchi, 63, who heads the Intractable Disease Patient Support Association, has been charged with violating the Organ Transplants Law by facilitating unauthorized organ transplants overseas.

“I’ve saved close to 100 lives, but I’ve never facilitated [organ transplants],” Kikuchi said during the first hearing of the trial, presided over by Judge Yoshiro Baba.

Kikuchi’s defense team said he intends to challenge the charge and claimed no violation of the law had occurred because Kikuchi and the NPO’s overseas activities did not constitute “facilitation.”

It is the first time for criminal charges to be sought over facilitating organ transplants overseas since the law took effect in 1997.

According to the indictment and other sources, sometime between January 2021 and July 2022, Kikuchi recommended two people — a man in his 40s with liver cirrhosis and a man in his 50s suffering from kidney failure — to undergo organ transplants in Belarus. A total of ¥51.5 million was paid to the NPO allegedly to cover transplant and other costs. The two men underwent transplants in the country, but the man in his 40s died after the surgery.

In their opening statement, the prosecutors claimed Kikuchi began arranging organ transplants overseas around 2003, soliciting potential clients via the NPO’s website. Initially, the NPO is said to have worked to arrange organ transplants in China, but after travel to that country became difficult due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NPO secured an alternative channel in Belarus.

The prosecutors indicted Kikuchi and the NPO in March this year following his arrest the previous month.