• Crime & Courts

NPO Director Gets 8 Months in Prison Over Organ Transplants; Arranged Surgeries in Belarus for Japanese Patients (Update 1)

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Tokyo District Court

The director of a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization was sentenced to eight months in prison Tuesday by the Tokyo District Court for his role in arranging organ transplants in Belarus for Japanese patients.

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

The prosecution had sought one year in prison and a ¥1 million fine for Kikuchi. For its part, the NPO was ordered to pay a fine of ¥1 million in line with the prosecutors’ demands.

It was the first time for a court to rule on the facilitation of organ transplants overseas since the law was enacted 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 the surgeries and other costs. The two men underwent transplants in that country, but the man in his 40s died about nine months after the surgery.

Kikuchi did not have a license from the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry to arrange such procedures, according to the indictment.

During the first trial hearing in June, the defense side said the facts were correct, but claimed that Japanese law does not apply to transplant surgeries done overseas.

The defense said in their opening statement and closing argument that Kikuchi’s actions did not constitute mediation since he did not act as an intermediary between the donors and the transplant recipients.

In his closing statement, Kikuchi said: “I’ve nothing to be ashamed about. I’m proud of what I’ve been doing to help society.”

In their opening statement and closing argument, the prosecutors argued that Kikuchi had recruited potential organ recipients and coordinated transplants with Belarusian hospitals while in Japan, meaning some mediation took place in this country, something that requires permission from the health minister.

The prosecution side also stated that Kikuchi was informed at online meetings with lawyers and university professors of the possible illegality of the NPO’s activities. “The defendant repeatedly committed crimes while being aware of their illegal nature,” the prosecution side said.