Fourth deal in Netcare kidney case

2010-11-23 10:31

Another of the accused in the Netcare cash-for-kidneys scheme trial has struck a plea bargain deal with the state, pleading guilty to 50 counts of contravening the Human Tissue Act in return for a R50 000 fine and a five year jail sentence suspended for five years.

Samuel Ziegler (62), who acted as an interpreter for the Israeli kidney suppliers brought to South Africa to illegally provide kidneys to rich Israeli patients undergoing the transplants at St Augustine’s hospital in Durban as part of Netcare’s international scam, is the fourth of the 10 accused in the case to have taken a deal. Two weeks ago Netcare itself, St Augustine’s and Netcare CEO Richard Friedland entered a plea bargain, paying R4 million in fines and agreeing to a R3.8 million confiscation order by the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU).

The rest of the accused, Netcare transplant coordinators Melanie Azor and Lindy Dickson, nephrologist Jeffrey Kallmeyer and surgeons Ariff Haffejee, John Robbs, Neil Christopher and Mahadev Naidoo will now appear in the Durban commercial crime court again on December 14 when a decision will be taken on both trial date and the venue. It is understood that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) prefers moving the trail to the high court in Durban with the trial itself likely to take place early next year.

At the same time, negotiations are continuing between lawyers for the remaining seven accused and the state over potential plea deals, which would see a shorter trial process.

In his guilty plea Ziegler said he understood the nature of his crime of participating in an illegal deal to sell human tissue and that he felt remorse for his actions. He has until June 11 next year to pay the R50 000, which was made up of R1 000 each for the 50 counts he pleaded guilty to.

He may, however, still face an asset forfeiture bid by the AFU.

NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mahaga said the NPA was “satisfied’’ with the conviction and sentence imposed on Ziegler, whom he described as playing the “least significant’’ role in the scheme, which netted Netcare some R21 million from illegal operations performed at St Augustine’s alone.

The group also carried out similar illegal operations, using donors from Israel, Romania and Brazil, in Netcare hospitals in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The state has not, however, charged them over these cases due to the massive logistics involved in such a prosecution, which investigators say would take some 18 years to complete. Israeli donors were paid $20 000 (about R140 744) per kidney and their Romanian and Brazilian counterparts around $6 000 each. The current case, which deals with 109 illegal transplants, started in 2004.

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