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Japan NPO Director Indicted Over Organ Transplants in Belarus

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Hiromichi Kikuchi

Prosecutors have indicted the director of a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization and the NPO itself for allegedly arranging organ transplants in Belarus for Japanese patients in violation of the Organ Transplant Law.

According to the Monday indictment, Hiromichi Kikuchi, the director of the Intractable Disease Patient Support Association, made arrangements over the period from January 2021 to July last year for a man in his 40s who was suffering from cirrhosis to receive a liver transplant and for a man in his 50s with kidney failure to receive a kidney transplant. Both operations were said to have taken place in Belarus.

Kikuchi did not have a license from the government to arrange such procedures, the indictment alleges.

The liver transplant patient allegedly transferred ¥33 million to the NPO’s account, while the kidney transplant patient transferred ¥18.5 million.

This is the first time that shadowy overseas organ transplants, which have been criticized both in Japan and abroad, have become the subject of criminal charges.

The condition of the man who received a liver transplant in February last year worsened after the surgery. He died in November 2022 after receiving another liver transplant in Japan with a donation from a family member.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office is believed to have issued the indictments primarily because the NPO continued to arrange organ transplants despite strong global criticism of people from advanced countries paying to receive organs from donors in developing nations. Prosecutors also gave weight to the fact that some of the patients who received transplants died or became gravely ill.

Prosecutors have not confirmed whether there has been an admission or denial of guilt. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, however, Kikuchi did not admit to the charges after his arrest, saying, “I did not mediate organ transplants.”

Prosecutors are set to present their case at the Tokyo District Court, believing the NPO’s actions constituted mediation.

In August last year, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the NPO was suspected of facilitating an overseas kidney transplant from a living donor that used a trafficked kidney in Kyrgyzstan.

On Feb. 7, the MPD arrested Kikuchi on suspicion of violating the law and proceeded to gather evidence of wrongdoing. This case has also revealed a loophole in the law, under which the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry does not have investigative authority over unlicensed mediation groups.