International Organ Trafficking Cannot be Stopped, Insider Says

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A Turkish man who was recently interviewed by The Yomiuri Shimbun arranged a kidney transplant from a living donor for a Japanese patient, with the operation carried out at this hospital in Kyrgyzstan, photographed in June 2022.

Nobody can stop overseas organ transplants from continuing despite the risks, a man involved in the practice told The Yomiuri Shimbun in an exclusive interview.

The 59-year-old Turkish man, who had a cooperative relationship with a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization that allegedly facilitated overseas organ transplants, pulled back the curtain on the international organ-trafficking network and the contacts that enabled such operations to go ahead.

The man is an alleged “organ broker” who connects organ-seeking patients from wealthy nations with donors from impoverished countries. He indicated that the NPO, the Intractable Disease Patient Support Association, was entwined in the trafficking network.

“Fifty percent of all organ transplantations, fake documents” are used, the man said during an interview in Istanbul on Tuesday. “All over the world, not in Turkey, all over the world.”

The man admitted he had been involved in arranging transplants for patients from overseas, but he also insisted it is not his responsibility to determine whether the documents indicating a donor’s identity are fabricated or genuine. “It is fake or nothing. Not my responsibility.”

Even if, hypothetically, organs had been trafficked for transplants, the man felt that it was not his concern. These murky activities have piqued the interest of investigative authorities.

The man had been a collaborator with a criminal group that was busted by Israeli authorities in connection with an organ-trafficking case in 2016. According to the indictment, acquired by The Yomiuri Shimbun, the group had been involved in at least 14 illegal kidney transplants by recruiting patients through an Israeli transplant support company and introducing them to hospitals in nations including Turkey, the Philippines and Bulgaria. The group had rounded up prospective donors from former Soviet nations such as Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

In these cases, the Turkish man instructed the patients in need of transplants and the donors to both falsely declare they were workplace acquaintances. In addition, in the role of a doctor, he was in charge of checking that the organ was suitable for the donor. He allegedly accepted payment of $20,000 (about ¥2.8 million) from each patient for his services.

According to several overseas media outlets, the Israeli ringleader had previously been involved in the trafficking of organs from people in Kosovo and refugees from Syria. He currently is “a major figure” wanted by Russia and is on Interpol’s international wanted list on suspicion of human trafficking.

The Turkish man had been cooperating with the ringleader, but severed the relationship when he found out he was on an international wanted list for being involved in crimes.

Trial still in progress

Although the man was not prosecuted in the Israeli case, Ukrainian authorities arrested him in April 2017 on suspicion of involvement in a similar organ trafficking ring. He was later indicted and his trial is continuing in a Kyiv court.

According to the prosecution documents, the man and three other people allegedly facilitated three illegal transplants in Turkey and the Philippines. The man was involved in compiling documents that falsely indicated the patients and donors were friends, and he also escorted them to the operations. All three donors were Ukrainians recruited through social media posts. They were paid about $15,000 (about ¥2.1 million) for providing a kidney.

This ring’s methods shared many of the hallmarks of the Israeli case — donors were recruited in Ukraine, the patients were escorted to medical consultations, and the transplants were conducted in nations such as Turkey and the Philippines. Even so, the Turkish man maintained he had done nothing wrong.

“I’m doing everything legal,” he insisted.

Seeking new clients

The man admitted that he knew Hiromichi Kikuchi, 63, director of the Intractable Disease Patient Support Association. Kikuchi, who was arrested earlier this year for allegedly arranging organ transplants in Belarus for Japanese patients, has pleaded not guilty at his trial. The man said he also knew other people in Japan acting as intermediaries for transplants. However, he explained that the only transplants for Japanese patients that he was personally involved with were the three cases that Kikuchi approached him about.

One of these cases involved a transplant from a living kidney donor performed in the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan in December 2021. The Ukrainian woman who donated her kidney was paid almost $15,000. The Turkish man was adamant that he had not arranged the donor in this case and repeatedly denied any knowledge of the payment made to her. “I [was] never ever involved with the donor fee and donor issue,” he said.

The man said he had ended any involvement in “medical tourism” since that transplant was performed in Kyrgyzstan. Despite this, since 2022 he has held multiple online discussions with the NPO regarding transplants in Sri Lanka and other matters. It is possible the man was attempting to bring in Japanese patients as “clients.”

The man was certain such transplants would continue, saying not even the Japanese government can stop them. “Look, if there’s a demand, there must be [a] market.”