NPO planned organ transplants in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan national flag

In a case of suspected organ trafficking in living donor kidney transplants, a nonprofit organization in Japan had planned transplants in Sri Lanka this year and told an overseas coordinator it would send “two patients [at intervals] for a total of about 10 patients,” The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned from audio and video recordings it has obtained.

Due to political upheaval in Sri Lanka, the surgeries have not been conducted.

The coordinator is a Turkish man, 58, who was arrested by Ukrainian authorities in 2017 on suspicion of involvement in organ trafficking. It is known that he received funds including a “donor fee” of about $15,000 (about ¥2 million) from the NPO, Intractable Disease Patient Support Association, for a transplant of a living donor kidney for a Japanese patient in Kyrgyzstan last year.

According to the recordings and interviews with people connected with the NPO, the NPO used to take patients mainly to China and mediate organ transplants from cadavers. As transplants in China became more difficult due to the coronavirus pandemic and other problems, it asked the Turk for help.

In April last year, two Japanese patients underwent kidney transplants at a hospital in Bulgaria, arranged by the Turk. The operations were successful, but he stopped mediating transplants in Bulgaria after Bulgarian authorities began an investigation on suspicion that illegal living donor transplants had been conducted in the country from 2019 to 2021.

In June last year, the NPO arranged, via the Turk, for a 58-year-old female patient who was a resident of the Kansai region and other patients to go to Uzbekistan. He tried to arrange transplants at a national hospital, but this did not materialize. In November and December, four patients including the Kansai woman entered neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where she underwent a kidney transplant. The donor was Ukrainian.

However, the woman who underwent the operation became seriously ill, and an Israeli who came to the hospital through a different route and underwent transplant died. No transplants were performed on the three other Japanese.

This year, the Turk proposed transplants in Sri Lanka. At an online meeting in May, he said, “We can start anytime,” and the NPO director said in response, “We would like you to start guiding patients around July.”

At a June meeting, the Turk requested, “First, please send me medical information and a birth certificate.” The director said, “Let’s hurry up and do it; if one person succeeds, then we will send two people each, for a total of about 10 people, once every two months.”

Around this time, the NPO recommended a transplant in Sri Lanka to a 58-year-old man from Yokohama who has kidney disease. The date of his trip had been set for early July, but it was postponed at the last minute.

The country has been in a serious economic crisis since spring, and in early July the nation declared bankruptcy and demonstrators occupied the official presidential residence. Since then, fuel shortages and turmoil have continued, but the Yokohama patient was approached again this month about traveling to the country. A departure date had been set for Saturday, but in the end the NPO told him the trip was canceled.

NPO denies involvement

The NPO flatly denied its involvement in organ trafficking on its website Friday.

“We have never been involved in organ trafficking,” it said in one of the documents it posted on its website.

However, it also said on its website, “It is true that there is a suspicion of organ trafficking” in connection with a transplant performed in Kyrgyzstan last year.

The NPO said it has coordinated about 170 overseas transplants over the past 17 years, and the sources of organs have included cases of accidental deaths, brain deaths and executed inmates until 2015, as well as living donors in five cases. It said that donor selection and arrangements are made by local hospitals and coordinators, and that “the NPO is never involved” in this process.