Netcare accused offered deal - source
Johannesburg - Prosecutors are negotiating with the eight remaining accused in the international kidneys-for-cash scam run by Netcare’s St Augustine’s Hospital, to secure a plea bargain of guilty when they appear in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court on Tuesday.
The eight, who are all involved in Netcare’s renal transplant unit at St Augustine’s, were allegedly part of the team that carried out 109 illegal kidney transplants on rich Israeli patients.
The organs were harvested from desperately poor donors in Brazil, Israel and Romania.
The eight accused are nursing specialists Lindsay Dickson and Melanie Azor; Hebrew interpreter Samuel Ziegler; and surgeons Jeffrey Kallmeyer, Ariff Haffejee, John Robbs, Neil Christopher and Mahadev Naidoo.
The management of the JSE-listed Netcare, South Africa’s largest private hospital group, two weeks ago admitted to having carried out the illegal transplants, paid a fine of R4mand agreed to a confiscation order of R3.8m in terms of a plea agreement.
The State is now carrying on with its prosecution of the eight staff members, all of whom Netcare bosses implicated in the plea agreement.
An impeccable source close to the prosecution team said on Friday that they were “talking to” lawyers representing the eight, in a bid to secure a second plea agreement to end seven years of denials and evasion by the eight accused and the disgraced hospital group.
“The thinking is that the main objective of stopping the illegal transplants has been achieved already and that the eight have already been punished to some extent by the damage to their professional reputations caused by the publicity around the investigation and court case,” the source said.
“At this stage it would achieve little to continue with a drawn-out trial process. The others involved in Brazil and Israel are being tried there. This group of accused are not the ones who put the scheme together; nor did they make any extra money out if it.”
He said their crime was failing to blow the whistle when it became clear the donors and recipients were not related.
The source said: “In fact they were from different countries and didn’t even speak the same language – and the donors, or rather suppliers, were only doing this for money.
"This group of accused are not the ones who put the scheme together. They simply failed to blow the whistle.
“The deterrent is there and the network has been broken up. If the accused do the right thing, this case may end here.
"Some of these guys are leaders in the field and have been frozen out of the conference circuit, on which they were world leaders, due to the investigation.”
Prosecutors are acutely aware that Haffejee, Robbs, Naidoo and Christopher are among the best renal surgeons in South Africa.
They do transplant work for state hospitals as well as the private sector, and should they be jailed and disbarred the province’s renal transplant capacity will be badly dented.
If they do not take the deal offered by the State, prosecutors will issue a formal indictment in the High Court in Durban and proceed to trial early next year.
Among those who will be called as witnesses are Illan Perry, the Israeli organ broker who, along with Netcare bosses, put together the scheme and arranged for Israeli medical aid societies to pay for the illegal operations.
The state will also call Belinda Rossi, the Netcare national transplant co-ordinator who went to Israel in 2001 to meet Perry with the intention of setting up the scheme, which involved bringing Israelis to Netcare hospitals in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town to undergo the operations there.