Expert calls on government to take Netcare kidney case to trial

2010-12-14 11:10

One of the world’s leading experts on the illegal kidney trade has called on the South African authorities to take the Netcare case to trial because of its importance in highlighting the illicit organ trafficking networks operating across the world.

Dr Nancy Scheper-Hughes, head of Organ Watch, made these comments after the case sat briefly in the Durban Commercial Crime court today, on the heels of another of the accused, nephrologist Jeff Kallmeyer, making a plea agreement with the prosecution and paying a fine of R150 000.

Kallmeyer is the fourth accused to plead guilty and strike a deal with the prosecution: Netcare itself paid a R4 million fine and agreed to a R3.8 million asset forfeiture, while the interpreter who worked for the illegal network, Samuel Ziegler, struck a deal last month.

Scheper-Hughes told journalists she believed the best way to expose the extent of the network, run by Israeli organ broker Illan Perry, was for the case to go to trial.

At this stage, only the doctors involved in the 109 illegal transplants – Arif Haffejee, Mahadev Naidoo, John Robbs and Neil Christopher – and Netcare transplant coordinators Melanie Azor and Lindy Dickson are still on trial.

The case was adjourned until January 28 to allow further negotiations between their legal teams and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) around possible plea agreements to continue.

Scheper-Hughes said the Netcare case was a “landmark’’ one as it was one of the rare instances in which the international nature of networks such as Perry’s were exposed. She said the fact that, in this case, the surgeons were on trial, was of great significance.

The surgeons, she said, had a responsibility to their profession not to undertake illegal operations, which they had to have been aware of because the seller and the recipient were of different nationalities and races, but were in adjacent operating theatres.

The trafficking operation, she said, had lured desperate Brazilians to South Africa with promises of up to $10 000 (R68 000), which they had hoped would change their lives forever.

A conviction in the South African case could place pressure on countries like the US, which were “not interested’’ in prosecuting the traffickers, to investigate and close them down.She added that the conviction of a major hospital group like Netcare was also significant and showed just how advanced and sophisticated the trafficking networks had become.

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