Spanish police revealed they have arrested five people who stand accused of offering cash to poor immigrants to buy a liver for transplant.
This is the first trafficking scheme of this kind uncovered in Spain, authorities have said.
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In a police statement a spokesman said: “Five people were detained for offering 40,000 Euros to immigrants without resources so that they would offer themselves for a liver transplant… the first attempted sale of organs detected in Spain.
“A rich Lebanese citizen who needed a transplant travelled to Spain and tried unsuccessfully to have the operation.” police said.
The man, a 61-year-old wealthy Lebanese mayor, allegedly approached several immigrants as potential liver tissue donors in Spain.
Accomplices allegedly recruited nine people to have liver compatibility tests at a clinic.
“The illegal transplant did not end up being carried out thanks to our legislation and the Spanish system of transplant controls, which prevent the buying and selling of organs.”
The Lebanese man was arrested January 30 at Manises airport in Valencia. He has appeared before a judge, who filed preliminary charges for alleged organ trafficking and released him on condition that he surrender his passport and remain in Spain.
Rafael Matesanz, director of the government’s National Transplants Organization, said at a news conference yesterday: “The police have helped to fight one of the scars of the 21st century, which is organ trafficking.
At yesterday´s press conference police said the mayor’s alleged accomplices recruited and paid for nine poor people — eight immigrants and a Spaniard — to have specialized liver compatibility tests at a clinic in Valencia last summer.
The tests cost thousands of Euros, which the mayor’s aides allegedly paid. Some of the nine people also received sums of money for taking part, police said.
Apparently just one man, a Romanian immigrant, met the medical criteria for the liver tissue removal and, posing as a legitimate donor, he accompanied the Lebanese mayor last summer to a Barcelona clinic specializing in liver transplants.
Medical workers there, following strict protocols against human organ trafficking, prevented the operation from going ahead.
The Lebanese man eventually got his liver transplant in Barcelona, using tissue donated by his son, who had earlier been turned down as a donor in Lebanon, Spanish authorities said.
In Valencia though, police were already investigating a tip-off from a nongovernmental organization that works with immigrants, which reported that an Algerian woman had complained that people were offering her money for part of her liver.
It transpired that the Algerian woman was among the nine people who took the liver compatibility tests.
Investigations led police to the Lebanese mayor and his accomplices, three Lebanese suspects and a Palestinian, who all live in Spain, authorities said.
The mayor was arrested when he flew back to Spain for a medical check-up.
Authorities, including Spain’s Director General of National Police, would not name the mayor because of an ongoing court investigation.
If convicted, the suspects could face 12 years in prison, but the court’s investigation is still preliminary.
“The main message is that no country is totally free of this problem, so that everybody should be alert,” Matesanz said. “Organ trafficking is more or less like slavery of some centuries ago. It’s the way some people really control other people. It’s exploitation of human beings.”
Despite health spending cuts over recent years in Spain, down in part to a double recession, the country carries out more organ transplants than any other country in the world.
The story comes in the wake of news that surgeons in Spain carried out a record total of 4,279 transplants in 2013, according to the state National Transplant Organisation in January.
It said the figure was partly thanks to a high number of donors.