- SOCIAL SERIES
Reality of overseas organ transplants / Financially desperate organ donors solicited via social media
The Yomiuri Shimbun
1:00 JST, August 24, 2022
In a recently publicized case of suspected organ trafficking, a living donor kidney transplant was conducted overseas with a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization acting as an intermediary. This is the third installment of a series on the current state of transplant operations carried out overseas.
“[It] doesn’t matter [where organ donors are found] as [long] as the documents are OK … [They] just need to be proper documentation [showing donors and intended organ recipients] are relatives.”
At least, that is what the 62-year-old director of a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization was told in an online meeting with a 58-year-old Turkish man in May.
The comment, made in English, is heard in audio recordings that The Yomiuri Shimbun has obtained.
When a 58-year-old woman from the Kansai region received a kidney transplant from a living donor in the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan in December, the Turkish man arranged a hospital and a donor for the transplant.
But Kyrgyz law bans organ transplants from living donors other than relatives. A Japanese passport was forged in the name of the woman’s donor. The “documentation showing they are relatives” mentioned by the Turkish man in the recording is highly likely to indicate forged documents.
At the online meeting with the director of the NPO, called the Intractable Disease Patient Support Association, the Turkish man emphasized that he has extensive networks in various countries. He said he had helped arrange an organ transplant for an Indian patient in Uzbekistan, that he was going to arrange organ transplants for Arab and Indian patients in the United Arab Emirates city of Abu Dhabi, and that he could begin arrangements for organ transplants any time in Sri Lanka.
On trial in Ukraine
An online video shows the man standing in a courtroom in Kyiv.
The video was posted on YouTube by local media in April 2017.
The man had been arrested by Ukrainian authorities the same month on suspicion of being involved in organ trafficking. In the video, the man denies his involvement in organ trafficking and says to the camera that he had no idea why he was there, that he had a healthcare-related company in Turkey, and that he did everything according to law.
According to court documents that The Yomiuri Shimbun has obtained, at least four men and women were arrested in the case and the Turkish man played a central role.
They are part of a group that has around 10 members. They used social media to find financially struggling Ukrainians, such as those with heavy debts, and promised to pay them $13,000 to $15,000 (about ¥1.75 million to ¥2 million) if they offered their kidneys. They are alleged to have taken donors to Turkey and the Philippines from 2015 to 2017 and performed a total of three live-donor kidney transplants.
The amount of money paid to each donor for one of their organs was almost the same as the “donor fee” of about $15,000 paid by the NPO to the man for the organ transplant performed in Kyrgyzstan last year. The organ transplant in Kyrgyzstan also involved a Ukrainian donor.
The man was detained in Ukraine for more than a year and freed on bail in July 2018. His trial is still ongoing while he has resumed his “activities.”
According to sources close to the NPO, the NPO asked for the man’s cooperation when organ transplants were suspended in China due to the coronavirus pandemic and other reasons. In April 2021, two Japanese patients received kidney transplants arranged by the man at a hospital in Bulgaria. One of the patients told The Yomiuri Shimbun, “I received a transplant from a living donor, who was Ukrainian.”
According to the Turkish man’s business social media account, he graduated from Istanbul University, one of the most exclusive universities in Turkey. Student records available online show that he graduated from the university’s medical school in March 1988.
A building in central Istanbul houses a group related to medical tourism and the man’s social media presence says that he works for the group as an executive officer. A senior official of the group who responded to The Yomiuri Shimbun’s inquiries said that the man was transferred from a hospital where he worked in 2015 and did assume an executive position at the group, but that he resigned in 2019. “I heard that he had founded his own medical tourism company,” the senior official said.
About 20 minutes by car from the city center, there is an apartment building to which the man told the NPO to send a copy of the patient’s family register. When a Yomiuri Shimbun reporter visited the address in June, the reporter could not see inside the five-story building, which had automatic locking doors.
Earlier this month, a person who is currently living at the address told The Yomiuri Shimbun on the phone that no parcels had been delivered from Japan so far. Asked about their involvement in the forging of documents related to organ transplants, the person said, “I have never been involved.”
“If you ask more questions, I will call a lawyer,” the person added.
The Yomiuri Shimbun tried to contact the Turkish man via phone or social media and asked for an interview, but he has made no reply. However, the NPO gave The Yomiuri Shimbun a written statement in which it said, “It seems that the arrest [in Ukraine] made [the man] feel deeply sorry about what he had done and he vowed not to make the same mistake.”
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